The Lawyer Behind the Infected Blood Scandal, and more: Bell Yard interview with Des Collins

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The Story of the ‘NatWest Three’: Bell Yard Interview with David Bermingham

The Story of the ‘NatWest Three’ | David Bermingham interview | Bell Yard Communications

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Q&A with The Legal Diary’s Founder & Editor Edward Fennell

Edward Fennell, ‘The Legal Diary’ founder & editor and former editor of The Times’ ‘Law Diary’, delves into how law firms have changed their approach to PR and gives advice for lawyers in dealing with journalists in a Q&A with legal and litigation agency, Bell Yard Communications.

Edward Fennell began his legal beat when working at The Times where he memorably interviewed a Baker McKenzie partner in 90’s Moscow who described the scene of Russian tanks rolling past the window. Edward’s journey progressed to starting The Legal Diary blog and penning a medieval monastic murder story in semi-retirement.

Over the course of your career, how have law firms changed their approach to PR? Did their attitudes change? Any notable trends?

Yes, absolutely dramatic changes since I first started in 1987. Until shortly before there had been a ban on marketing and promotional activity and when this ended most firms were very unclear on how to handle it. A few went for immediate activity and made a botch of it. Others were very nervous with everything having to be handled by the managing or senior partner. In due course, they brought in PR firms but often expected unrealistic results. Besides, many were still reluctant to get drawn in. Famously, when Slaughter and May came top of the M&A table one year I asked for a comment. They replied that they would think about it. And much later in the day they simply got back and said they did not think a comment was appropriate!

The big catalyst for change was when firms suddenly started to open up offices all over Europe – especially Eastern Europe. They were desperate to get the news out and that prompted the development of a much more professional approach.

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

From my early teens I became an avid reader of newspapers and news magazines and had a strong sense of vocation towards journalism. The Times, The Daily Mail (a very different kind of paper back in the 1960s) and The Economist were my big reads.

After university I started working as an Information Officer in local government. Employment and recruitment issues were my specialism and that gave me some expertise to start writing for The Times. Subsequently, I was on hand when The Times set up its weekly LAW section in 1987 and I continued to do that for 30+ years until a combination of age and Covid brought it to an end.

What was your best scoop/what’s been the most interesting story you’ve ever covered and why?

In August/September 1991, Russia was going through a terrible period of unrest. Some elements of the army staged a coup involving driving tanks into Moscow. I was aiming to write an article on the general situation from a legal perspective and was interviewing a Baker McKenzie partner in the Moscow office. As we started to talk the tanks began to roll past the building. He went to the window and gave me a vivid description of what was happening. It made the opening para a lot easier and more exciting to write!

How do you fact-check your work?

At The Times one was backed up by a fantastic sub-editing and legal service so one was saved from the worst errors. Just in the course of writing though I usually fed back to interviewees what I was planning to quote or say on their behalf. Many of the topics were highly technical, even for lawyers, so I had no hesitation in double checking that I had understood correctly.

Why did you set-up The Legal Diary?

After stopping writing the Legal Diary for The Times in Spring 2020, I thought it might be fun to continue it on a bigger basis, taking in some of the other material that I thought was interesting but had not been able to use. Besides, being now semi-retired I needed something to do with my time and keep in touch with the wider world. 

What is the best tactic for approaching you with storylines?

Usually best just to drop me an email as it is the best way to digest a story. Tuesdays are probably the best days to reach out because I publish on Friday so I need, ideally, to have my stories sorted in priority by Wednesday/Thursday morning. Getting them to me on Tuesday or Wednesday morning allows me time to digest them and get a sense of their level of priority.If I think they are ‘possible/probables’ I often come back with a query/clarification. Or a request for an accompanying image.

What advice would you give to lawyers for dealing with journalists?

Keep to the point – distill your expertise to the key points. Don’t blind with science. Bear in mind that the journalist is an intermediary to an interested audience – even, maybe, potential clients!

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

To be frank I feel so far removed now from what it’s like getting into the business today that I am not sure I can offer any meaningful advice other than the obvious:

  • start writing about topics that fascinate you and develop some expertise and contacts in that field,
  • try to get the pieces published somewhere/anywhere to show your abilities/expertise (and, one hopes, talent),
  • then start extending and making the right contacts across the media,
  • pray for a bit of luck

Tell us about your recent novel and how it came about.

I am a historian by background and am lucky enough to live in Winchester adjacent to the site of the medieval monastery – Hyde Abbey – where Alfred the Great was buried (it’s now a ruin, destroyed by Henry VIII). I am also very interested in Chaucer and was pretty convinced that Chaucer had known Hyde Abbey quite well. The clue is that the Tabard Inn in Southwark – where Chaucer’s pilgrims meet – was a real place and was actually owned by Hyde Abbey – and the abbot spent quite a lot of time there. So a medieval monastic murder story against the background of the Peasants’ Revolt was an obvious plot line, linking up real historical characters with Chaucer’s fictional ones. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!

Order ‘CHARTER FOR MURDER’ by Edward Fennell here

Read/sign-up to ‘The Legal Diary’ here

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Litigation PR: Crypto Issues

Bell Yard Communications has vast experience working for clients involved in legal crypto issues that require expert litigation PR and crisis communications advisers.

ONTIER LLP

This has most prominently taken the form of Bell Yard working for the law firm ONTIER and their client Dr Craig Wright, the author of the Bitcoin White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. This White Paper served as the blueprint for a new digital asset over 15 years ago. Dr Wright chose to prove his identity as Satoshi as well as establishing and enforcing his copyright in the White Paper and numerous patents relating to the blockchain through the legal system.

Bell Yard advised ONTIER on how to promote the legal successes the firm had in the English legal cases brought by Dr Wright following the relentless online hostilities experienced by Dr Wright from individuals and entities online.

We advised on the communication around a ground-breaking action against 16 bitcoin developers to establish their duty to restore access to stolen/lost private keys to those who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a court, their ownership of the wallet in which digital currency is stored. We also supported ONTIER in the various copyright infringement cases ongoing, as well as defamation actions in UK and Norway.  Running in parallel was a huge case (brought by ONTIER on behalf of an entity beneficially owned by Dr Wright), against digital currency exchanges Kraken and Coindesk, valued in the hundreds of billions of pounds.

About Bell Yard Communications

We advise individuals, firms, chambers, companies large and small, charities and community groups – all of whom have one thing in common: the desire to communicate on matters relating to the law.

Bell Yard are consistently top ranked in Chambers & Partners’ Litigation Support Guide since 2018.

Contact London’s leading litigation PR and reputation management experts at Bell Yard Communications here.

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Bell Yard Litigation PR Clients: Michael Jackson

Instructed the morning after Martin Bashir’s documentary ‘Living with Michael Jackson’ was aired in the UK, Bell Yard set to work devising and implementing a robust rebuttal strategy to overturn the initially hostile global media coverage and subsequent litigation PR work.

Using MJJ Productions’ own footage of Bashir interviewing Jackson, we focused media attention on the betrayal Jackson felt at the hands of Bashir. Working closely with Jackson’s UK & US legal teams, Bell Yard led the global media handling of Jackson’s claim for injunctive relief and damages from Granada.

Michael Jackson Litigation PR Media Statement:

Here is the full text of the statement issued today on behalf of Michael Jackson by Bell Yard Communications:

“Michael is devastated and feels utterly betrayed by the British television programme, Living With Michael Jackson, presented by Martin Bashir and broadcast in the UK on Monday, February 3, 2003, which he regards as a gross distortion of the truth and a tawdry attempt to misrepresent his life and his abilities as a father.

“In a number of crucial respects Michael is concerned that Martin Bashir and Granada Television have broken the trust he placed in them.

“In particular, he felt he had obtained their assurance that his children would not be featured in any way in the broadcast programme.

“Michael repeatedly asked Bashir to stop filming his children, and was promised by him that the footage of his children would be taken out in the final edit but, Bashir said, shooting should not be stopped because “it would break the continuity of filming”.

“Michael is deeply upset that the programme sensationally sets out to use two or three pieces of footage giving a wholly distorted picture of his behaviour and conduct as a father.

“Michael feels particularly devastated that he has been treated so badly by Martin Bashir, whom he let into the Jackson family home on a number of occasions over eight months, in the belief that Bashir wished to make a genuine documentary of his life.

“Michael believes that what was eventually broadcast was a salacious ratings chaser, designed to celebrate Martin Bashir, and which was indifferent to the effect on Michael personally, his family and his close friends.

“Michael originally consented to grant Bashir extended access to the Neverland Valley Ranch, his family and Michael himself, because he wanted to give the world a faithful representation of the truth about his life.

“Michael believes that the programme Bashir has produced is a travesty of the truth. Michael would never have consented to participating in this film if he had been aware of how Bashir was going to falsely portray him.

“Michael believes that this programme was intentionally produced and edited with a view to broadcasting sensationalised innuendo.

“Michael feels deeply angry that the programme could have led viewers to conclude that he abuses children in any way. Michael Jackson has never, and would never, treat a child inappropriately or expose them to any harm and totally refutes any suggestions to the contrary.

“Michael would never betray the trust that a child, or their parents, might place in him.

“Michael was today moved to make the following personal statement: ‘I trusted Martin Bashir to come into my life and that of my family because I wanted the truth to be told.

‘Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him that his would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life and told me that he was “the man that turned Diana’s life around”.

‘I am surprised that a professional journalist would compromise his integrity by deceiving me in this way.

‘Today I feel more betrayed than perhaps ever before; that someone, who had got to know my children, my staff and me, whom I let into my heart and told the truth, could then sacrifice the trust I placed in him and produce this terrible and unfair programme.

‘Everyone who knows me will know the truth which is that my children come first in my life and that I would never harm any child.

‘I also want to thank my fans around the world for the overwhelming number of messages of support that I have received, particularly from Great Britain, where people have e-mailed me and said how appalled they were by the Bashir film. Their love and support has touched me greatly.’

“These comments are excerpts from a videotaped statement from Michael Jackson, which shall be released after the airing of the Bashir television special in the United States.

“Debbie Rowe, Michael’s ex-wife and the mother of two of his children reacted today: ‘It breaks my heart that anyone could truly believe that Michael would do anything to harm or endanger our children: they are the most important thing in his life.'”

Contact

Get in touch with Bell Yard for any litigation PR/legal sector reputation management needs.

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Litigation PR Experts: Bell Yard Communications

Bell Yard Communications is a leading litigation PR and reputational management agency based in London with over two decades of experience supporting high-calibre and ground-breaking clients.

Over the years we have helped guide HNW individuals, companies, law firms, finance houses, family-run businesses, celebrities and embattled employees through the challenging process of being in the public eye during times of dispute or difficulty.

Claimants or defendants may require media support on matters from fraud to divorce or from employment actions to personal injury cases. The media spotlight may fall on judicial reviews or sensitive coroners’ inquests. Perhaps intellectual property disputes or planning law reviews. Even administrative court proceedings and certainly some criminal prosecutions.

Bell Yard’s expertise in the field of litigation PR is shown through the continued inclusion of the firm and its Director Melanie Riley in Chambers UK’s Litigation and Support Guide in the Litigation PR & Communications category.

Bell Yard’s Melanie Riley, Sarah Peters, and Louise Beeson were also selected once again in the 2023 Lawdragon Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting list. This illustrious list, in its 9th edition, recognises the exceptional advisors who have played an instrumental role in the exponential growth of the legal industry by providing cutting-edge advice and strategic guidance to legal leaders.

Things to consider before choosing litigation PR:

  • Can you control the information flow?
  • Should you comment publicly and, if so, when?
  • What can be divulged pre-trial?
  • Should your shareholders know in advance?
  • What do you tell employees without destabilising the business
    or risking leaks?
  • If the other side is briefing, should you react?

Above all, how do you balance the public’s right to know with your desire for
confidentiality?

If even just one of these issues resonates, do get in touch as Bell Yard can help.

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What is litigation PR?

Litigation public relations (litigation PR), is a powerful means of communications management that can directly affect the outcome of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing, or mitigate the impact on the client’s reputation.

Litigation PR relates to a legal dispute, which is vastly different to other forms of PR such as profile-raising. Bell Yard Communications is one of the very first litigation PR agencies in England and have assisted a range of clients in extremely important and impactful legal cases over the years.

This litigation PR service allows us to protect our client’s overall reputation and support their legal dispute. When looking for a PR company it is important to focus on a brand that can consider and deliver within the implications of communicating during any proceedings. Such as navigating any sensitive rules all while keeping to a strategic plan and approach.

Since the boom of social media and the internet the need for litigation PR has never been more important. Especially with the scale of consequences potentially being larger and the scale of coverage magnified.

Chambers Litigation Support Guide comments on Bell Yard:

“Bell Yard is a market-leading litigation PR boutique with a long-established presence in London. The firm represents defendants and claimants across a range of case types and sectors. Its services include media risk assessment, dispute profiling and public relations connected to trial, among others.”

Chambers Litigation Support Guide comments on Director Melanie Riley:

Melanie Riley is a co-founder and director of Bell Yard Communications. She is instructed by corporate clients, law firms, barristers’ chambers, charities and high net worth individuals in disputes ranging from white-collar crime to matrimonial matters.

“Melanie Riley is very personable and unflappable, which is needed for this job. She is incredibly knowledgeable. She knows all the courts and the system. Melanie is well connected and is my one-stop shop into that world of the courts and how to work through the system.” 

“She has probably the best book of journalist contacts of anybody in the business.”

If you are interested in finding out more about Bell Yard Communications’ litigation PR work then please click here to explore our various archived cases.

Contact Bell Yard Communications

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Magazine editor Richard Burton: “Don’t offer me listicles or I’ll give you 10 reasons why they’re outdated and a little desperate.”

Richard Burton, magazine editor/media consultant, shares his thoughts on what makes a good PR pitch and reflects on his own impressive career within the journalism profession in the below Q&A with Bell Yard Communications that will be of interest to anyone working in/with the media.

From being inspired by comic book characters to editing the Telegraph online on 9/11 and revealing the identity of a schoolgirl’s killer with a picture exclusive, the business editor and former Fleet Street journalist has plenty of stories to share.

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

I’d love to say it was reading the Washington Post, but it was really looking at DC Comics in the back of my father’s car on long journeys. More specifically, Clark Kent. Seriously. At aged nine I wasn’t interested in his Super sideline, just the day job. I became hooked on working for an editor with a fat cigar and a disregard for anything resembling HR. The prospect of being kicked out on to the streets in search of scandal, meeting contacts in alleyways and whistle blowers in low dives sounded more enticing than “retails sales” which is what the careers people later said I’d be suited for. When I got a real job and my name appeared in my local paper, a curmudgeonly neighbour who used to disapprove of everything I did, suddenly became my best friend.

Why did you gravitate towards being an editor?

I spent 10 years in the provinces before I came to Fleet Street, actually starting as a tea-boy in the provinces, before moving from weeklies to agencies to dailies and, basically, stringing for the nationals on every patch I worked. Some of the papers back in the late 70s had lineage pools where we shared the spoils like waiters share tips. I always refused to join as I was pretty much on it 24/7 so I guess I needed greater ownership of the job. I took a news editor role purely for the money after Margaret Thatcher came to power and a sudden 17 per cent interest hike meant I couldn’t afford the mortgage I’d just signed up for. But it meant I was able to nurture a young team which I did until I fell out with the boss and got the sack.  I then went for a deputy editor job as, by then, I’d got a proper taste for management, and after about a year, two directors took me to a hotel too posh for my payband and asked me to step up. That job got me into Fleet Street. 

How do you fact-check your work?

Most stories are fairy linear and, if properly attributed, speak for themselves, but the fact that I do fact-check at all is usually a good start. So much I read these days clearly hasn’t been. Having spent years subbing on the Telegraph – querying and correcting – helps a lot. I try to use the best sources, aren’t afraid to say to someone’s face: ‘that can’t be true, I’m going to need more than that.’ I use the Deep Web a lot. I was an early adopter of CAR [computer assisted research] and never shy away from seeking an honest right of reply. I hate it when a reporter tells me they ‘saw it on the Internet.’ It’s like saying they read something in Smiths.

What does your daily/weekly schedule look like when crafting a story?

Depends. I’ve been on investigations that dragged on for weeks and involved hours of trawling microfiche files (oh, the memories), knocking on every door on the estate and,  even sitting in cars waiting for someone to arrive or leave. But back to the present: I write, edit and commission around three dozen a week, plus a bit of ghosting. Crafting is instinctive in 99 per cent of cases; I usually know where a story should be going by the time I’ve read the first few lines and I tend to edit as I read, a habit developed from years of filing ‘off the cuff’, dictating to copytakers from the scene.    

What is the best tactic for approaching you with storylines?

I’m not a huge fan of email for everything but it’s the only way when you’re editing six magazines and get 50-plus pitches a day. I get annoyed when people play games: a LinkedIn message reaching out to me to jump on a call (mind boggles) as they have something I’d be interested in. If it’s a pitch, just say so. I actively welcome them. I’ve had splashes and coverlines that simply came to my inbox. Go easy on the surveys (I get loads) and don’t offer me listicles or I’ll give you ten reasons why they’re outdated and a little desperate.  

So, I’d say pertinence, patience and persistence. By that I mean, tell me as simply and directly what it’s about, don’t expect an answer immediately and feel free to prod me – I’m old fashioned enough to be shamed into the courtesy of an eventual reply.   

What makes a good story/quote?

Emotion – in both cases. Something that moves a reader who’s short on time and has lots of media competing for their attention. The problem is, so much is hyped online these days, readers are rightly sceptical of anything too dramatic. 

In terms of quotes specifically, I find people are often reluctant to express themselves. I get offered thought leadership pieces a lot and love it when I can hear the voice of the writer. When I get something marked Approved: 4th and final revision, I know it wont be.   

What is the best/worst part of being a journalist/editor? 

The anecdotes. Hate to sound trite, but that sort of sums it up: If you spend every day seeking out something that (you hope) others will pay to know about, especially if they involve people and places they’ll pay to see or listen to, you’ll have them in abundance. Not sure there are many other jobs where a crown court judge would delay sentencing until he saw me in my seat, a rock group would ask me to drive them home to avoid crowds and a Question Time panellist would text me from the car afterwards to ask how I think they did.

I can’t honestly think of a worst part, other than the odd hours, the occasional drudgery (I couldn’t always choose my subjects) and the odd time I found myself in the night lawyer’s office struggling to reconcile what I’d written with what I could prove.   

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

Do it because it’s a calling and you believe in people’s right to know and the importance of an open, honest media, not because you want to “find your voice”.  That’s what blogs are for. It’s not about you. It’s about what you can impart. Also, absorb all media. Read the tabloids for word economy, the broadsheets for context and do learn the language. Few use it correctly, you’ll need to at least make a decent fist of it.

How do you consume media/stay up to date with the news?

Its easy these days. It’s all brought to your phone. But I subscribe to a few aggregators, have Sky News or CNN on constantly while I’m on the Mac in my home office, a habit I picked up during my Mirror days when TVs hung from the ceiling while we worked and I have access to news wires so it’s pretty full-on. 

What was your best scoop/what’s been the most interesting story you’ve ever covered and why?

I was editing the Telegraph online on 9/11. We ran 148 stories in one six-hour period alone  and I catnapped on a physio table at about 4am attempting round-the-clock updates. Other than that, too many to say: doorstepping a young Lady Diana Spencer in Northampton had a sense of history in the making, revealing the identity of a schoolgirl’s killer with a picture exclusive gave me notoriety and enough money to move house … but the most rewarding was unashamedly using the Mail’s massive reach to expose a couple’s agony at watching an incurable gene defect gradually take their children’s lives. I tracked down the one clinic in the world which had had any, albeit experimental, success and, even though it was massively oversubscribed, got them to agree to see them if I had them flown out. Their daughter survived another six years and the son is now symptom-free.   

Richard Burton: LinkedIn

Richard Burton is a former Fleet Street journalist who manages a range of digital titles in the UK and across Europe. His main London title is the business magazine, Director of Finance. 

Bell Yard Blogs

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Delay in Final Report of the Infected Blood Inquiry

Responding to the news from the Infected Blood Inquiry today that Sir Brian Langstaff and his team now expect to publish their Final Report in March 2024, rather than this autumn, Des Collins, Senior Partner of Collins Solicitors who represents some 1500 individuals and their families impacted by the infected blood scandal, comments:

“This is another devastating blow for our clients, although the delay is understandable for the reasons Sir Brian has outlined. We, of course, respect Sir Brian’s wishes to follow due process and produce a thorough and considered report, however, today’s news does beg the glaring question of whether the Government will continue to stick to its line of compensation after delivery of the Final report.

“Victims are dying at a rate of one in every four days so another 6 months plus will be too late for many and given this week’s announcement of a compensation scheme for wrongfully convicted Postmasters, ahead of the Final report into that scandal, it seems doubly unfair that infected blood victims are still being made to wait.*

“We call upon the Government to implement a proper compensation scheme for infected blood victims as soon as possible, as recommended by Sir Brian in April this year. If the Government fails to do so, we fully expect to be instructed by our clients to restore the Group Action against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and ask that the question of compensation be referred back to the Court.”

ENDS

*See Des Collins’ statement about the inconsistent treatment of infected blood victims and wrongfully convicted postmasters here: https://collinslaw.co.uk/post.php?s=2023-09-19-media-statement-date-19-september-2023-stark-contrast-between-government-response-to-post-office-horizon-victims-and-infected-blood

Media enquiries


Bell Yard Communications: BellYard@bell-yard.com 

Louise Beeson: Louise@bell-yard.com / Mob: 07768 956997 

Declan Flahive: Declan@bell-yard.com / Mob: 07944 629485

Notes for editors

The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, is the UK’s largest ever statutory inquiry, established to investigate how men women and children were given infected blood and blood products by the NHS from the 1970s. Following an intervention by Sir Brian, the Government made interim payments of £100,00 last October to those victims of the infected blood scandal still alive and a small number of widows. This left other victims of the scandal such as orphans and relatives still in limbo. On 5th April 2023, Sir Brian published his Second Interim Report recommending that interim payments of £100,000 should be made in respect of deaths not yet recognised to “alleviate immediate suffering”. His report said: “These interim payments should be capable of being made through the support schemes after registration and of being achieved reasonably quickly. They can and should be achievable before the compensation scheme itself is operational.” There has been no official Government response to this to date. In answering questions in the House, Ministers have said the matter of a compensation for infected blood is complex and victims need to wait on details of a compensation scheme until after the Inquiry Final Report is published.

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Bell Yard Visits House of Lords

Bell Yard was delighted to attend the House of Lords this week to mark the launch of the law reform and human rights organisation JUSTICE’s latest report, ‘The State We’re In: Addressing Threats & Challenges to the Rule of Law.’

This report addresses the significant regression of the rule of law in the UK and the threats this poses to the democratic fabric of our nation. Bell Yard helped to secure media coverage for this landmark report’s release in both print and broadcast media.

Further details about JUSTICE’s report can be found on its website.

You can also read about it in: 

The Guardian

Law Society Gazette

Solicitors Journal,

And The Telegraph Online, amongst other outlets.

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Climate Change: A Growing Election and Legal Battleground

Climate change is gearing up to become a key election – and legal – battleground. 

‘Just Stop Sunak’ screamed Tuesday’s Daily Mirror in response to the government’s confirmation on Monday that it would grant more than 100 new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences, while The Sun led with the launch of its ‘Give Us A Brake’ campaign, urging politicians to “protect hard-up motorists from expensive net zero policies”. The Times, meanwhile, reported that the government will ask the heads of major UK energy companies to reconsider their investment strategies following Rishi Sunak’s call to “max out the opportunities” in the North Sea.

Emboldened by the Conservatives’ recent Uxbridge by-election victory, in which opposition to the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone played no small part, the Prime Minister insisted that plans to expand North Sea drilling, said to be essential for the UK’s energy security, were “entirely consistent with our plan to get to net zero”.

The new North Sea licensing round – which will be accompanied by two more carbon capture and storage projects – drew condemnation from environmental groups, opposition figures, the renewable energy industry, investors and some former Tory ministers.

Lambasting the plan as “the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heatwaves”, Chris Skidmore, the former science minister who led a review into net zero, said it was “on the wrong side of modern voters who will vote with their feet at the next general election for parties that protect, and not threaten, our environment.”

The North Sea plan follows the government’s approval in December of the UK’s first new deep coal mine in thirty years, recent changes to the UK’s carbon trading scheme that cut incentives for industry to reduce emissions, a planned national review of low-traffic neighbourhoods, not to mention a damning progress report from the Climate Change Committee in June, which claimed that the UK has lost its global leadership position on climate change and risks failing to meet legally binding emissions targets made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, a coalition of nature groups, including the National Trust, RSPB and RSPCA, have threatened to mobilise their 20 million or so members, should the government “use the environment as a political football” by watering down its climate commitments. 

The net zero fallout comes amid a continuing rise in climate litigation. According to research published last week by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University and the UN Environment Programme, the number of climate-related lawsuits has more than doubled in the past five years to 2,180 court cases globally.

And a report by the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, published in June, found a significant increase in legal challenges to the climate policy response of governments and companies, particularly outside the US. It also reported a surge in greenwashing cases relating to climate mis- and disinformation, and an increase in litigation concerning investment decisions – a fact of which the energy companies summoned to Number 10 will be only too aware. 

While both reports highlight a growing ESG backlash with a rise in lawsuits that seek to delay climate action or obtain compensation for government climate policies, in the overwhelming majority of cases, “People are … turning to courts to combat the climate crisis, holding governments and the private sector accountable and making litigation a key mechanism for securing climate action and promoting climate justice,” according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. 

Indeed, Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project are taking the UK government to court for the second time in under two years over its plans for tackling climate change. They claim that the government’s revised net zero strategy – the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan – is unlawful and are seeking a judicial review. It follows the organisations’ landmark legal victory last year, with the High Court ruling that the government’s net zero strategy breached the Climate Change Act and required revision to show how key emissions reduction targets would be met.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, was in court last week to challenge the government’s “reckless decision to greenlight a new oil and gas licensing round, without properly checking the damage it will do to the climate”.

The UK government’s climate climbdown and vocal support for motorists, while clearly a calculated risk, is a polarising issue, pitting as it does short-term energy security against long-term green investment, economic self-interest against the ‘greater good’, and – as the Financial Times suggested yesterday – individual freedoms against statutory diktat. 

But whatever the ultimate impact on UK voting intentions of the net zero pushback, especially in light of the prolonged cost of living crisis, the increasing appetite for challenging governmental and corporate climate policy response in the courts as we enter the “era of global boiling” means that these latest lawsuits are unlikely to be the last. 

With more than half of climate litigation cases having direct judicial outcomes favourable to climate action, including prompting policy changes, according to the LSE report, Rishi Sunak – and the energy companies – better take note.  

By Sarah Peters

03/08/2023

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Gen Z’s Relationship With Media: Q&A With Bell Yard Intern

Hopefully our young intern Sadie has gained some useful experience from her week spent in the world of litigation PR chez Bell Yard. Whilst she was with us, we asked her to share some of her insights into how she and her generation (Z in case you were wondering) consume and interact with traditional and social media platforms. Here is what she had to say, some of which chimes with the recent OFCOM report on News Consumption in the UK which may also be of interest:

  1. Where do you usually get the news from and why?

All my news consumption is from free online sources, whether that be the BBC News app or social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Not only are they free, but they also tend to cover popular subjects and are easy to use with content being in video form or short, punchy articles. Additionally, I look to be entertained rather than purely informed which is typical of my generation and which these sites often achieve.

  1. How much news-related content do you consume per week?

I rarely consume day-to-day news unless a particularly interesting headline from BBC News pops up. A growing number of teenagers just aren’t interested in the daily government dramas and frequent royal spats – it’s too much of the same thing we’ve heard before.

However, during “big” news scandals, like the recent implosion of the Titan submersible, I tuned in a lot. News-related content on this was everywhere online and I liked the way platforms turned it into a captivating drama through vivid storylines and the unravelling of the facts. 

  1. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones? 

I rarely listen to podcasts, I’m more a music listener. However, historical podcasts on Greek Mythology interest me as they align with my reading interests. If I were to listen to more podcasts, they would be about escaping the real world, exploring a new passion or curiosity. 

  1. What social media platforms are you on and which do you use most actively?

I use Snapchat, WhatsApp and occasionally Instagram and TikTok due to their addictive, scrolling-for-hours nature. Many my age use Snapchat to meet new people with whole relationships being formed online. So much of a young person’s life is on their phone that it makes sense this is where much of their news is consumed. 

  1. What is your favourite trad media outlet, and why?

I prefer BBC News – the notifications of enticing headlines draw you in, and information is given in short, snappybursts.

  1. Do you trust the media old and new? 

I trust BBC News, as its primary role is to distribute reliable news. I do not, however, trust social media because its role is to keep users on their screens as long as possible and to make as much money as possible. This is achieved largely through their algorithms pushing “clickable” posts that are controversial and usually fake or soaked in opinion. There is also a real danger of misinformation, especially when there is no counterargument or impartial voice of reason.

  1. How do you avoid misinformation?

I use social media less than most of my peers, and I rely on BBC News or Apple News for information. On social media, I remind myself of the importance of stepping back to remember that, despite how it may seem for a lot of young people, the online world isn’t the real world and that truth is to be found in the real one. 

  1. If you wanted to hire a lawyer for an issue (e.g. allegations of sexual harassment, academic misconduct, recruitment discrimination), how would you go about finding one? 

I would research on the internet, look at different options, and ask trusted adults who know more about the subject than me.

  1. Do you think Meta’s Threads will be a success or is it a passing fad?  

For myself and my peers, Threads doesn’t feel important. In my head, the only thing different about it is a different rich man running it!

  1. To what extent has Twitter fallen out of favour with your generation?

I don’t know many people my age who even have Twitter, let alone actively use it. With the heavy stimulation and escapism of short video footage available on TikTok and Instagram, Twitter seems less exciting. In fact, there is almost a stigma around using the app for my generation.

27/07/2023

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Pub Club: Exciting New Pub Finder App Offers Lifeline to Publicans

A new free pub finder app Pub Club has launched this week which promises to revolutionise the way thirsty, but discerning, Londoners search for their ideal pub experience.

Conceived last year by ‘new-to-London’ friends Tom Ireland-Life and Freddie Bermingham, when flat sharing in Wandsworth and seeking a good local in which to watch the footie and enjoy a Sunday roast, Pub Club is an app designed to match its user’s preferences with their perfect venue.

Pub Club already has 350+ pubs across South and West London on their app, which is now available to consumers in both the Google Play and Apple Stores. The founders’ ambition is to grow this footprint to cover around 2,000 pubs across London by the end of the calendar year, with further UK coverage in the following year.

Users can select pub attributes using filters in the app ranging from affordability to wheelchair accessibility, from beer garden availability to cocktail and music offerings, with many more options in between, allowing them to swiftly identify suitable pubs within their preferred geographic radius.

Pub Club also benefits pub owners by helping to market their establishments, menus, and entertainment to regular customers and prospective visitors, encouraging increased footfall. Pubs can also track the number of views their pub is getting through the app, the number of people scanning their QR code at the pub and respond to reviews from their customers.

Freddie says: 

“Our idea came about on a gloomy November Sunday morning when we wanted to find the perfect pub for a roast, with sofas and a fireplace and, of course, Sky Sports. After countless dead-end Google searches, we were convinced there had to be a more efficient way for people to find their desired pub.”

Tom adds: 

“The British pub scene has suffered a great deal recently due to the pandemic; 150 pubs in England and Wales permanently closed within the first few months of 2023. We are hoping that Pub Club helps not only punters but the industry itself by providing a new way to put cash in the till for both chain-based and independent pubs.”

Pub Club aims to offer more than search engine functionality. A sleek promotional section of the app, known as ‘The Chalkboard’,iswhere pub landlords and managers can advertise events such as live music, comedy nights, and drink offers to clientele within a chosen radius. Customers can also rate the pubs they visit and share their top recommendations with friends online. 

To mark its launch, Pub Club is running an inaugural ‘Golden Ticket’ campaign starting in July and running throughout summer. Lucky app users who check into pubs between July and the end of September by scanning the bar-side QR codes, will have the chance to win an enticing prize of £100 bar credit.

Looking ahead, Pub Club has plans to expand its features to include meticulously curated bar crawls and a convenient table booking function, all seamlessly integrated into the app’s user-friendly interface.

Carly, manager at The Four Thieves in Battersea, says: 

“The Pub Club app is brilliant! It allows us to connect with customers in a way that’s not been possible before. It is great that more people are aware of what the Four Thieves has to offer, and The Chalkboard makes advertising what’s going on at the pub seamlessly easy.”

The App is free to download and use for pub-goers and there are no subscription fees for London pub owners until mid-September 2023.

ENDS 

Media enquiries

Declan Flahive:       declan@bell-yard.com       Mob: 07944629485

Notes to Editors:

Until earlier this year, Freddie Bermingham worked at a recruitment firm in the City while Tom Ireland-Life works in External Affairs. They met through mutual friends while Freddie was at Bristol University and Tom at Bath University.

Seed funding was provided by Freddie, Tom, and their friends and family.  

The current anticipated subscription fee for pubs, levied from September, is expected to cost £30 per month with second-tier membership also offered as an option for pubs.

20/07/2023

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Court of Appeal Grants Important Bitcoin Blockchain IP Appeal

The Court of Appeal today granted an appeal brought by Dr Craig Wright, the pseudonymous author of the Bitcoin White Paper, and associated entities (Wright International Investment Ltd and Wright International Investments UK Ltd) over the intellectual property rights in the Bitcoin File Format – i.e., the structure of the Bitcoin Blockchain.  This finding is to be welcomed for its importance to both the digital currency and the wider IT industry.

Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby today overturned the first instance ruling of Mr Justice Mellor, insofar as he had determined that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction) in respect of the Bitcoin File Format.

Whilst it was accepted for the purposes of the service out application that the Bitcoin File Format satisfied the originality requirements, Mellor J had declined to accept that the Bitcoin File Format was fixed, i.e., it is was not possible for it to be identified with sufficient precision and objectivity and therefore copyright could not subsist in it.

However The Court of Appeal today concurred with the Claimants’ assertion that there is a real prospect of successfully establishing that the Bitcoin File Format is fixed.  The judgment of the Court of Appeal was given by Lord Justice Arnold, with whom the other two Lord Justices agreed.  

As the world relies on data and computer programs stored electronically, the trial will determine whether the format of a file is, in principle, capable of protection by copyright. The IT industry needs certainty regarding how this file format requirement may be met.

Damon Parker, of Harcus Parker said:

“We welcome this significant ruling which enables Dr Wright to advance his claim for copyright in the Bitcoin File Format which potentially affects all future use, and marketing, of Bitcoin and will prove to be a crucial development in intellectual property law.”

Dr Wright said:

“I am pleased with the outcome of this appeal. As many developers do not fully document their entire body of work, this appeal shows that, even without documentation, their work is still considered to be capable of copyright protection”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby heard the appeal on Wednesday 12 July 2023.

The case number is CA-2023-000404.  Harcus Parker instructed Michael Hicks of Hogarth Chambers as Counsel for the appeal.

Terence Bergin KC (4 Pump Court), Adam Heppinstall KC (Henderson Chambers), Daniel Goodkin (4 Pump Court) and Jack Castle (Henderson Chambers) are Counsel for the underlying claim (case no. IL-2022-000069).

A copy of the judgment is available on request.

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications:        Melanie Riley / +44 (0)7775 591244 / melanie@bell-yard.com       

Notes to Editors

On 7 February 2023, Mr Justice Mellor granted the Claimants’ permission to serve the claim form on the foreign defendants residing out of the jurisdiction. 

This permission was granted with respect to two of the three limbs of the Claimants’ claim – that of infringement of database rights in the Bitcoin Blockchain and copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper (that Dr Wright asserts he authored). 

The third limb, that of infringement of copyright in the Bitcoin File Format, was struck out on the basis that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction).

The claim will proceed against the defendants, all 26 of whom are involved in the use of and promotion of the BTC network.

The Claimants assert that the Defendants in this claim have been developing, promoting, funding, trading – and encouraging investors and consumers to trade and invest in – digital cash known as BTC (Bitcoin Core), whilst throughout infringing the Claimants’ intellectual property rights in both the White Paper and the Bitcoin Blockchain on which these digital assets are based.

Dr Wright devised the Bitcoin System and issued the White Paper under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” on 31 October 2008.  A number of the Defendants to these proceedings proposed significant changes to the Bitcoin System in 2016, which deviated from the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper.  On 1 August 2017, the BTC Network was created without the authorisation of the Claimants.

By participating in the operation of the BTC Network, it is the Claimants’ case that the Defendants have infringed the Claimants’ Database right which subsists in the Bitcoin Blockchain and infringed Dr Wright’s copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper by copying Block 230,009 in the Bitcoin Blockchain whilst making copies of the BTC Blockchain.

According to Dr Wright, the only digital asset that implements the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper is “Bitcoin Satoshi Vision” (BSV).   

The Claimants seek an injunction restraining the Defendants from continuing to develop and/or participate in the promotion of BTC.  The Claimants also seek a declaration from the Court that database rights subsist in the Bitcoin Blockchain and that copyright subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper and that Dr Wright is the owner of it.  

20/07/2023

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Crisis and Litigation Communicators’ Alliance announces KARV Communications and HilburgAssociates as new partners in the United States and Canada

The Crisis and Litigation Communicators’ Alliance (CLCA) is pleased to announce fresh partnerships that will further strengthen the network’s international footprint.

KARV Communications, based in New York (United States) is a globally recognized strategic communications and advisory firm with a focus on corporate and litigation communications, crisis management and public affairs/issues management. With experience across the globe, KARV helps clients achieve their communications and business goals through its expertise in crafting and honing often complex messages to a variety of stakeholders.

KARV has received recent international recognition for its work, including a Chambers & Partners ranking for both its Litigation Support and Crisis PR & Communications capabilities.

Andrew Frank, founder and CEO of KARV Communications said on joining CLCA:

“As KARV celebrates our tenth year with a reach far outside of our New York home, we welcome the opportunity of CLCA membership. With our growing book of clients often having interests outside of the United States, we are greatly anticipating meaningful and impactful collaboration with other CLCA members across the globe.” 

HilburgAssociates, domiciled in Canada is a pioneer in both crisis leadership and litigation communication/trial services.  Its principal, Alan Hilburg, has been personally involved in more than 100 trials (both criminal and civil) across multiple sectors such as tobacco, chemical, hospitality, transportation, manufacturing, telecommunication, consumer products, pharmaceutical and healthcare.

Since the 1980s Alan and his colleagues have provided a range of services with a focus on trial strategy including co-authoring openings and closings, daily trial services, witness preparation, media relations, executive and employee communication, post trial trust recovery, and even incorporating jury science in the psychological profiling of prospective jury members, which would not be permissible in many jurisdictions outside of the US.  

HilburgAssociates established its crisis leadership credentials in 1983 with its management of the Tylenol crisis, which became the Harvard Business School’s platinum case history on crisis management and human-centered design.

Alan Hilburg, CEO said:

“The CLCA offers the gold standard of communication counseling excellence when company or executive brands are under threat. We’re honored to be part of such an important global resource.” 

The CLCA Chairman, Martin Jenewein adds:

“Our Alliance once again demonstrates its best-in-class position as a network for litigation communicators offering clients litigation support services, each of whom are at the forefront of rapidly developing markets in their individual jurisdictions. The recognition our members receive internationally and in their home markets, through legal industry rankings, is proof positive of their capabilities.

“We are particularly honoured to have attracted both a pioneer in trial management and strategic communications such as Alan Hilburg as well as an award-winning specialist agency such as KARV to join our network. We look forward to working with them to build ever stronger alliances across our member firms and sharing best practice for the benefit of the network and all our clients.”

Issued on behalf of CLC-Alliance by:

Bell Yard Communications          +44 (0)20 7936 2021     BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                 +44 (0)7775 591244      Melanie@bell-yard.com

Louise Beeson                                +44 (0)7768 956997      Louise@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors

About CLCA 

The Crisis and Litigation Communicators ́Alliance (CLCA) is a global network of owner-managed PR consulting firms who are each leaders in the areas of Crisis Management and Strategic Legal communications in their respective markets. Clients can benefit from the collaboration of members on cross-border matters and the CLCA’s specialist expertise in international disputes (especially competition law and cartel cases, cross-border litigation, class actions, regulatory enforcement cases, fraud and employment related disputes).

Our constituent firms can be found here. For membership enquiries in jurisdictions not already covered, please contact chairperson@CLC-Alliance.org.

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Threads: Zuckerberg Challenges Musk’s Twitter

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are poised for a significant showdown in the app store with Meta’s Threads, a Twitter replica, scheduled to launch today (July 6th). Following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter last year, internal turmoil at the company has increased the likelihood of a successful challenge to its dominance in the text-based social media realm, offering fresh opportunities and terrain for social media marketers. While previous attempts to overthrow Twitter have failed, the current tumultuous circumstances at Twitter HQ since Musk’s purchase present a more realistic threat.

Mark Zuckerberg has a history of imitating rival social media platforms to capitalise on their popularity and innovation. Instagram’s adoption of Stories during Snapchat’s heyday and the introduction of Reels to compete with TikTok are prime examples. Given the growth of Twitter users seeking alternative platforms in the wake of Musk’s leadership, the time is ripe to employ the tried and tested strategy of mimicry to challenge the well-established Twitter behemoth.

Recently, Musk’s Twitter has faced intense scrutiny due to controversial measures that have tested user loyalty. Restrictive actions have targeted non-paying users, including limiting unverified accounts to view a maximum of 600 tweets per day (later increased to 1,000). Additionally, TweetDeck, the platform’s list-based product, has become accessible only to Twitter Blue subscribers. Controversial decisions, such as lifting bans on alleged right-wing accounts, coupled with Musk’s erratic behaviour, have dampened advertisers’ interest and spending on the platform. Twitter’s lack of a press department does little to counter the impression of a chaotic situation. If the turmoil persists, it would not be an overstatement to say there is a genuine risk of Twitter fading away in the long term.

Should Threads gain traction, it will offer a new channel for global social media marketers and businesses (including law firms) to explore, strategize, scrutinize, and populate. However, the new app is not without flaws, as it allegedly collects sensitive user data, including health information, financial details, contact information, browsing history, location, and purchase records, which may raise concerns for some users. Interestingly, Threads was initially intended for release in 2019 as a response to Snapchat’s popularity but was subsequently pulled. Its launch now is very timely to take on both Snapchat and Twitter. However, successfully attracting the next generation by projecting a “cool” image will be a crucial challenge for Threads. Nevertheless, leveraging fellow Meta-owned Instagram’s existing user base of 2 billion active monthly users and simplifying the transition by allowing users to preserve their Instagram usernames on Threads provides the app with easy customer acquisition advantages and a fighting chance.

Only time will reveal whether Threads becomes a fleeting trend or emerges as a major player in the social media landscape, surpassing the achievements of previous endeavours like Jack Dorsey’s BlueSky, Donald Trump’s Truth, and the decentralized Mastodon. Elon Musk may find himself reconsidering the $40 billion purchase from last year or at the very least, feeling the pressure as competitors sense an opportunity for success.

By Declan Flahive

06/07/2023

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Lessons for #MeToo trials by media

The flurry of #MeToo-related allegations that recently have rocked high-profile individuals and business organisations shows the fuse of non-financial misconduct still burns fiercely post-Weinstein. Reputational impact reaches far and wide in the face of an investigative journalist’s pursuit of targets to name, and publicly shame, after an allegation has been made.

For the individual involved, if arrested and charged, there’s not just a trial under the public spotlight to endure, but the many months of professional paralysis beforehand, let alone acute pressures on their private life and endless sleepless nights taking their toll. Yet, as nightmarish as legal proceedings are, they at least have a clear endpoint. There is a court process and, importantly, one starting with the presumption of innocence. There’s a forensic examination of evidence, a verdict and potentially a sentence. Society puts faith in the expertise, checks and balances involved in establishing the truth. Sometimes the court gets it wrong – but it’s the most reliable system we have in this country of exposing fact and reaching a just determination.

If convicted, you pay your dues and subsequent rehabilitation is possible.

In contrast, paradoxically, should the allegations appear insufficient to warrant a criminal charge, the accused arguably faces a worse reputational position from which to defend themselves.

Investigations by Tortoise Media, The Guardian, FT and others, while no doubt painstaking, cannot possibly replicate the analysis and impartiality of a court case. The drip feed of innuendo, untested assertions, anonymous briefings and breaking of NDAs to reveal a person’s ‘truth’ is nigh on impossible to counter, let alone defeat, in the height of the media maelstrom. Coupled with a knee-jerk reaction by employers suddenly under intense scrutiny, a full pile-on can be triggered, with investors and intermediaries swiftly seeking to distance themselves from any perceived scandal.

Of course objectionable behaviour should always be called out. However, not all stories are quite as clear cut as first painted. #MeToo trials by media involve journalists acting as judge and jury, with nuance and mitigation too often left by the wayside. Few complainants actively seek public vilification of the perpetrator – an honest apology, cessation of the unwanted conduct coupled with improved, robust processes for prevention in the workplace can represent the necessary and appropriate resolution.

For those caught in the cross-hairs of a media pursuit, the prudent course is to let calm heads prevail and avoid the temptation to rush to act on every emerging new detail. Gather together a small but experienced team, share the facts, listen to advice, determine a strategy, consider the professional and personal ramifications, stick to a consistent narrative and allow others to go into bat on their behalf at the appropriate time. 

This may not immediately stem the tide of suspicion while the storm rages, but will likely prove sustainable, allowing for a more balanced and fair appraisal of the facts as they emerge over time.

By Melanie Riley

15th June 2023

This article previously appeared in PR Week

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Bell Yard Recognised by Chambers in Litigation Support Guide

Bell Yard Communications is proud to once again be recognised by Chambers and Partners in this year’s Litigation Support Guide.

Our founder and director, Melanie Riley, continues to be listed in Band 1 of the individual rankings, as she has been since the guide’s inception in 2018.

This accolade is a welcomed recognition of the quality of service given to our clients that puts Bell Yard amongst the leading litigation support specialists in the UK and the world, coupled with our recognition in the US’ Lawdragon awards once again this year.

Bell Yard has achieved 20 years of interesting instructions and wishes to extend a huge thanks to all our colleagues, clients and contacts alike for this commendation. Here’s to the next 20!

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Bell Yard Helps Kingsley Napley Scoop Gold in Best PR Category

We are delighted to have helped Kingsley Napley scoop Gold in the Best PR category of the CityWealth Brand & Reputation Awards 2023.

Our client was recognised not only above other law firms but also wealth managers and accounting firms for their impressive press profile and use of the media to support their BD & Marketing effort.

The firm is a deserved winner given the commitment throughout the firm, top down and across all practice areas, to talking to journalists, writing expert articles and commenting on newsworthy topics, cases and developments. In the last eighteen months they have also got great exposure in target sector based publications by commenting on ONS statistics to build expert profile in the regulatory space.

Kingsley Napley acknowledged Bell Yard’s decade-long contribution to this success in their Linked In Post here.

Congratulations to everyone not only at Kingsley Napley but also to our very own Louise Beeson for this well-deserved award – a truly collaborative effort of which we are very proud. 

Thank you Kingsley Napley for continuing to value our services, and long may the awards flow!

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ITV: A Crisis Comms Disasterclass

ITV’s reputation has suffered greatly following revelations concerning Phillip Schofield’s behaviour with a junior work colleague almost forty years younger. Key errors escalated this exposé into a crisis, though arguably one that could simply have been characterised as an inappropriate workplace relationship had the truth been outed much earlier. Instead, ITV’s reputation and internal processes have been brought into disrepute.

Here are some tips for handling problematic issues that might prevent a similar hullabaloo:

Extensive and effective investigation: ITV’s internal investigation by its HR team in 2020 – when the media company was made aware of the swirling gossip regarding the high-profile presenter and a young programme runner – was clearly inadequate. Hiring an independent legal team to conduct an external investigation from the outset would have provided a more robust and extensive assessment of the situation and identification of any policy, contractual, or ethical violations. This would likely have included recommendations and so have led to the situation being addressed before it erupted to the extent it did. Saying that the media company “did not find any evidence of a relationship beyond hearsay and rumour” has allowed a festering distrust in ITV’s ability or willingness to get to the truth and act on it.

Delayed response: ITV’s inadequate and slow reaction to the seriousness of the situation became a significant aspect of the narrative. It took over a week to appoint an external investigator and in the meantime rigid adherence to a single media stance, all whilst the bosses were reportedly on holiday, allowed the information vacuum to be filled by those with scores to settle. If the TV company had maintained a watching brief on the issue earlier even if no allegations were proven at the time and had been alive to cultural issues internally (rather than permitting an in-favour few to dominate and call the shots), perhaps more supportive voices would have come out to present a more positive image of ITV’s workplace, enabling the media company to minimise the fall-out and steer the narrative more effectively. The light Schofield’s affair has shone on the wider issues at This Morning has intensified the public interest in the story, and fuelled the fire across other media outlets.

The playbook has changed: Scrutiny surrounding workplace culture, interpersonal relationships and conduct has been a prominent issue for several years now, in light of the #MeToo movement. As a media company regularly reporting on this shift, ITV should have recognised the importance of demanding the highest standards from its own team and been alert to the potential for abuses of power. They should have known viewers would expect this and that their competitors would be lining up to hold them to account. After all journalists like little more than to report on other journalists and especially problems at a rival. Take for example the criticism The Guardian has received for its alleged insufficient investigation into sexual harassment complaints against its now former star columnist Nick Cohen.

While it is still too early to determine the long-term fate of This Morning – which has been on air since 1988 – the show’s legacy is at stake. That ITV’s chief executive, Dame Carolyn McCall is soon to be hauled before a parliamentary committee, to answer questions on the media company’s approach to safeguarding and complaint handling, inevitably adds to the intensity of the situation. Although there too ITV has failed to take control of the narrative. ITV representatives have been called by the Committee to answer questions that focus on recent events. Let’s hope Ms McCall does a better job in presenting the story next week.

As the oldest commercial network in the UK, ITV finds itself in a deeply challenging period while offering a salutary lesson to other media outlets for whom this scenario may not be as far-fetched as their executives wish to hope.

By Declan Flahive

07/06/2023

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Legal PR: Building a Positive Reputation

Since the Law Society of England and Wales first allowed lawyers to advertise in 1986, the UK legal sector has grown to become the largest legal services market in Europe, valued at £41bn in 2021, second only to the US globally. As competition intensifies, law firms need to catch the eye of clients and stand out from the crowd, making effective PR and communications more critical than ever.

This begs the question; how can a law firm establish itself a positive reputation? Here are a few tips:

1. Be realistic: Ask yourself key questions from the outset – “By whom do we want to be known?”, “For what do we wish to be respected”, and “Who do we have that can best deliver our message(s) to our preferred audience(s)?”

2. Be clear and concise: Use audience-appropriate and unambiguous language that is comprehensible to the intended recipient. If speaking to the general public, avoid legal jargon or technical terms that may confuse or intimidate readers of non-specialist publications. If speaking to peers in the profession, legal detail and nuance may not only be appropriate but a requirement. 

3. Be professional: Consider your tone and avoid derogatory or inflammatory language (no matter whether using personal or work accounts as the two are increasingly considered indistinguishable). Always maintain a respectful demeanour irrespective of provocation and especially, when addressing controversial topics during interviews (whether on or off-record). It’s best to believe there’s no such thing as off-record these days, given the combined effects of pressure for scoops; the ease in which those with ‘off-message’ views can be cancelled and the omnipresence of self-style ‘citizen journalists’ armed with only a mobile but who can do their worst for clicks. One unfortunate slip-up can result in career-threatening consequences.

4. Be accurate: Ensure that all statements made to the media are accurate and verifiable. Avoid making unfounded claims or exaggerating the facts as this could come back to haunt you.

5. Be transparent: Where it is feasible to do so, be open about your law firm’s activities, goals, and values. Avoid misleading or unnecessarily withholding information from the media as this could lead to a breakdown in your relationship with the journalist/outlet should the full facts become known. In a PR prep call before an interview Learn to politely side-step an unwanted inquiry where appropriate – but, as a guiding light, consider authenticity as the best policy.

6. Be strategic: A strategy for building your reputation is important and it starts with knowing your audience and how to reach them.  Thereafter it’s about being efficient, responsive and giving good counsel. A great example of a solicitor who has successfully utilized social media to build a unique brand is Akhmed Yakoob, the director of Maurice Andrews Solicitors in Birmingham. With his engaging personality and savvy use of social media, Yakoob has amassed an impressive following of 100,000 on TikTok. His distinct public persona, which includes driving a bright yellow Lamborghini and signing off his videos with the catchphrase, “So always remember: there is a defence for every offence,” has been effective in capturing the attention of his preferred audiences and conveying his own message. While Yakoob’s specific tactics are not for everyone, there’s an art to developing a specialist brand that speaks to your firm’s chosen goals and values. The strategic purpose is to differentiate yourself from the competition and attract both clients and talent.

7. Be agile: Be responsive to media inquiries and requests for information. Promptly address any inaccuracies or misunderstandings that may arise in the press to nip them in the bud and avoid a crisis unfolding. Understanding the prevailing media zeitgeist and proactively engaging through your own lens and experience, shows fleet of foot and encourages media to seek your counsel when the next opportunity arises.  Repetition of the brand name in the public sphere helps with recognition and appreciation.

8. Position yourself as a thought leader: Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge through writing articles and speaking at industry events, to establish yourself (and by extension, your firm) as a credible and authoritative voice in your area of law.  Applying yourself in this way, helps garner your reputation as an ‘expert’ in an area for which the firm wishes to be known.  After all, people often google-search their prospective lawyer to get an understanding of their expertise prior to making the decision to instruct. And this media presence helps with directory listings too, which is never bad for an individual’s career prospects and benefits the firm more broadly too.

The media establishes a law firm’s reputation: positive coverage enhances images and increasing visibility, while negative coverage can erode public trust. 

A law firm can only build and then maintain a positive reputation in the public eye by putting in the hard yards.  But the benefits are self-evident: as it attracts clients and talent while setting itself apart in a highly competitive industry.

By Declan Flahive

15/05/2023

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Too Hot to Handle: Law Society’s Climate Change Guidance

Judging by the reaction to the Law Society’s latest guidance note, Impact of climate change on solicitors, released yesterday, the “milestone climate change guidance” has got lawyers hot under their white collars.

Said to be the first guidance of its kind in the world, the 28-page note seeks to “enable the profession to be at the forefront of responding to the challenges of climate change which impacts all areas of legal practice,” according to Caroline May, chairwoman of the Law Society’s climate change working group.

While the note provides guidance for law firms on how to manage their business in a manner consistent with the transition to net zero, such as avoiding greenwashing in marketing and communications and taking into account employees’ stance on climate change, it also considers how climate change physical and legal risks may be relevant to client advice and how climate change issues may affect both solicitors’ professional duties and the solicitor-client relationship.

It is this final point, in particular, that provoked such a flurry of commentary.

The Law Society guidance states: “Some solicitors may … choose to decline to advise on matters that are incompatible with the 1.5°C goal [of the 2016 Paris Agreement], or for clients actively working against that goal if it conflicts with your values or your firm’s stated objectives.”

“Woke, virtue-signalling nonsense”, “reckless” and “‘landmark guidance’ but for all the wrong reasons,” were just some of the reactions, with the Law Society accused of meddling in green politics and representing the interests of climate change activists rather than solicitors.  

The Law Society emphasises the importance of access to justice and the right to legal representation, by stressing that solicitors are not obliged to represent every prospective client that knocks on the door (unlike barristers who are bound by the ‘cab rank rule’).

However, in stating that “climate-related issues may be valid considerations in determining whether to act”, the guidance could further empower climate change protestors to take direct action against law firms and solicitors acting for big energy companies. Moreover, according to Iain Miller, regulatory partner at Kingsley Napley, it raises the prospect that in time firms may face regulatory action for representing clients that damage the environment. The existence of this warning to the profession, he says, may in due course be relied upon to demonstrate that this risk was known about.  

The guidance was also criticised for suggesting that law firms may want to consider accommodating employees who identify climate change as a ‘recognised philosophical belief’ – a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act.

Furthermore, as one of its detractors pointed out, in highlighting the impact of climate legal risks on solicitors’ professional duties, the guidance could increase the risk of law firms being sued for professional negligence.

Whatever your take on the Law Society’s guidance, one thing is clear: law firms need to be alive to, plan for and mitigate the increasing reputational risk related to climate change – whether from greenwashing allegations, employment claims, professional negligence cases, the representation – or even non-representation – of energy clients.  

Meanwhile, the Bar Council’s Climate Crisis Working Group is crafting draft ethical guidance for the Bar, liaising with the Law Society. It follows last month’s declaration by some 120 lawyers, among them prominent KCs, that they will not prosecute peaceful climate protesters or act for companies supporting new fossil fuel projects. Could this herald the beginning of the end of the cab rank rule?

Written by Sarah Peters, Senior Consultant at Bell Yard Communications

21/04/2023

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Bell Yard Selected in Global Leaders List (Law Dragon)

Congratulations to Bell Yard’s Melanie Riley, Sarah Peters, and Louise Beeson for their continued selection in the 2023 Lawdragon Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting list.
 
This illustrious list, in its 9th edition, recognises the exceptional advisors who have played an instrumental role in the exponential growth of the legal industry by providing cutting-edge advice and strategic guidance to legal leaders.
 
Bell Yard, in particular, has earned plaudits for its remarkable expertise in the field of crisis communications, showcasing an exceptional ability to craft narratives that help trials succeed, while mitigating risks that lead to failure.
 
We express our gratitude to Lawdragon for this recognition and extend our warmest congratulations to all the outstanding listed individuals.

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Salutary Tales at the BBC

The BBC/Gary Lineker crisis was avoidable in more ways than one. 

The saga hardly needs recapping such is the attention it has attracted in recent days. But in short, when the   Match of the Day presenter compared the rhetoric used by the Government in its rollout of an anti-immigration bill to that of 1930s Germany, he found himself in hot water.

There was an outcry from those who disagreed with his language. There was consternation from BBC bosses that he had crossed a line by compromising its impartiality. Yet various colleagues supported his right to free speech, especially since he is not a news & current affairs journalist nor BBC employee. The BBC’s decision to take Lineker off air left Saturday night’s favourite sports programme in chaos when its whole presenting team refused to appear. Many predicted as inevitable DG Tim Davie’s subsequent climb down, but what could the BBC have done differently to avoid this crisis brewing out of control?

Consistency is key:

The approach taken in this instance seemed at odds with the (lack of) treatment meted out to others at the BBC taking an overtly political stance online (see below).  The guidelines seem poorly drafted, poorly communicated and, historically, inconsistently applied, lending weight to the Lineker support camp.  If BBC managerial consistency starts now – requiring new emphasis and implementation – they first have to game the consequences of the situation, and only then place a marker and stand their ground, or risk having rings run round their decisions.  The broadcaster’s history is littered with BBC insiders talking publicly about their management’s shortcomings – so the Lineker problem was never going to be resolved quietly once his suspension was announced. 

Suspend now and investigate later:

By going for the ‘suspend now investigate later’ approach, BBC bosses exacerbated the situation. It turned a saga into a circus that dominated public discourse and put the BBC under massive scrutiny for several days. Perhaps swifter decision-making would have prevented the situation from snowballing as it did. 

Anticipation leads to the best cure:

Clearer social media guidance for contracting presenters would have left no room for ambiguity. There had been earlier situations (for example Lord Sugar criticising transport union boss Mick Lynch over recent strike action) which had already exposed high-profile presenters’ expressions of personal political views as a tricky grey area. That the BBC’s social media policy will now be subject to independent review does demonstrate action (though clearly after the horse nearly bolted). 

Choose your battles wisely:

Lineker’s fierce army of fans (personified by his 8.8 million Twitter followers), put him in a category above and beyond the popularity of other BBC staffers. He would be an attractive talent for other sports channels. Despite rumours in some quarters that he regretted his extreme language and had admitted privately that he had perhaps gone too far, he has immense power (enhanced by his privilege of hosting a flagship BBC programme). He put to the test the widespread football notion of no player being bigger than their club. His criticism of a Government already unpopular among much of the Twitterati was likely to receive a mainly positive reaction on that particular platform.  However, the general furore is simply further recognition that the media like nothing better than a drama involving one of their own – early acknowledgement of which might have helped the BBC realise this was never going to play out discreetly.

Conclusion:

Whilst the crisis appears to have abated with soothing and mutually respectful statements from both sides, this peace is fragile. All Lineker’s future tweets will be pored over by media and commentators looking to reignite the issue. Let’s face it, he has already, seemingly purposefully, given them new fodder.  It strikes us that both sides have emerged with reputations somewhat tarnished.

Savvy BBC observers await the untreatable lesions to appear in this relationship, given a mere sticking plaster has been administered to an already festering wound. What are the sporting odds on which will come first: Lineker forced into issuing an unreserved apology for his social media antics and resigning or the end of Chairman Sharp and/or DG Davie’s respective tenures?  Reputations linger despite a spotlight that fades.

By Declan Flahive

16/03/2023

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NFT Handbags at Dawn

The latest battle of the handbag, aka the high-stakes lawsuit brought by French luxury design house Hermès in the US against the artist Mason Rothschild over his ‘MetaBirkin’ NFT collection was hardly going to go unnoticed. Not only did the subject matter offer great headline and photo opportunities for business, tech, crypto, art, fashion and legal news outlets alike, but there were important principles at stake for the burgeoning world of NFTs and luxury brands. 

Some say Hermès took a risk filing such a dispute to be heard before a jury and taking on the so-called artistic community. However, its success in protecting its brand was a legal and reputational triumph setting a precedent for other brands and NFT creators in the relationship between digital art, NFTs and the physical fashion it purports to replicate. 

The Birkin handbag

Hermès was established in 1837 and, inter alia, they are known for designing and producing the iconic and highly sought after Birkin handbag. The Birkin handbag has been synonymous with high fashion, exclusivity and wealth since it burst onto the cultural scene in 1984 with its value being seen through the two-year-long waiting list and the hundreds of thousands of pounds each one can fetch at auction. Unsurprisingly, Hermès owns trademark rights for the “Hermès” and “Birkin” marks as well as trade dress rights in the design of the handbag.

‘MetaBirkin’

The artist Rothschild, whose real name is Sonny Estival, began selling ‘MetaBirkin’ NFTs in 2021 that portrayed the highly coveted Birkin handbag adorned with various eccentric items like fur, tusks and even a Santa hat, rather than the typical leather of the genuine Hermès handbag. He intended this as a comment “on the animal cruelty inherent in Hermès’ manufacture of its ultra-expensive leather handbags”. The NFT collection proved a hit with fans shown through the range reportedly making over $1 million for Rothschild through online sales. 

See you in court

Hermès filed a lawsuit in January 2022, arguing that consumers only purchased Rothschild’s NFTs because the Birkin name wrongly led them to think the product was endorsed by Hermès.

In response, Rothschild argued that his ‘MetaBirkin’ NFT project was an “artistic experiment” that commented on society’s adoration of luxury goods and its displays of wealth. He adopted a fair use defence in line with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, referring to the example of Andy Warhol’s depictions of Campbell’s soup cans. 

Furthermore, Rothschild relied on the ‘Rogers’ legal test from the landmark Rogers v. Grimaldi case from 1989 that allows trademarks to be used without permission being granted so long as a) the title of the work has some artistic relevance to the underlying work and b) that the title is not explicitly misleading as to the source of the content of the work. However, Hermès claimed that these NFTs were not only created purely for financial gain and not protected under free speech as an artistic expression but they also diluted the Birkin name and violated Hermès’ trademarks. Hermès further argued the ‘MetaBirkin’ experiment had damaged its future prospects in the NFT world where other luxury brands are already active. 

Hermès wins

On February 8, the jury in the Southern District of New York reached its finding that Rothschild’s unauthorised versions of the Birkin handbag constituted trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and cybersquatting, since Rothschild used the ‘MetaBirkins.com’ domain name that was deemed confusingly similar to that of the luxury fashion house. Hermès was awarded US $133,000 in damages.

Interestingly, the jury also found that Rothschild’s unauthorised use of the Birkin handbag as an NFT was not a protected form of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as it was explicitly misleading to consumers. The jury found that the ‘MetaBirkin’ was more akin to consumer goods, which are subject to trademark regulations, than free speech-protected works of art, and that Rothschild did this to profit from Hermès’ goodwill.

NFT legal precedent

Whilst Hermes can now claim that it fiercely defends its brand from replicas in both the real and virtual worlds, this lawsuit also has implications for the wider world of NFTs. The ruling has been reported as a blow to creators looking to use online space to sell replications of established brand products for financial gain, representing a win for IP protection for luxury brands in general. One headline even went so far as to report that the judgment meant NFTs are not art.

Clearly, there will be further cases in this new frontier where technology and art – and the legal principles to be applied – collide. Meantime, this case offers various other lessons and consideration points.  Commentary in established media was, unsurprisingly, more pro-Hermès than the spectrum of debate on social media, where the David v Goliath battle was sometimes viewed more sceptically. It highlights not only the threat to big brands but also the potential for a new realm of customers that this new technology can bring.

Crypto Experience

By Declan Flahive

22/02/2023

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Crypto Experience

Bell Yard advises ONTIER, the firm whose client, Dr Wright, authored the Bitcoin White Paper, under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, creating the blueprint for a new digital asset over 15 years ago.

Having been ‘doxxed’ as Satoshi in 2015, he faced relentless online hostility from individuals and entities with a vested interest in alternative digital coins. Dr Wright soon determined to prove his identity through the courts, establishing and enforcing his copyright in the White Paper and numerous patents relating to the blockchain.

Bell Yard’s role has been to promote ONTIER’s incremental successes in the English legal cases being brought and/or challenged by the firm on Dr Wright’s behalf, so as to marginalise the online abusers and to achieve public recognition, through court judgments, that Dr Wright is indeed who he says he is.

We work in close conjunction with Dr Wright’s personal PR team, while remaining dedicated to our task of promoting the litigation outcomes. 

We are currently advising on the communication around a ground-breaking action against 16 bitcoin developers to establish their duty to restore access to stolen/lost private keys to those who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a court, their ownership of the wallet in which digital currency is stored.   We also support ONTIER in the various copyright infringement cases ongoing, as well as defamation actions in UK and Norway.  Running in parallel is a huge case (brought by ONTIER on behalf of an entity beneficially owned by Dr Wright), against digital currency exchanges Kraken and Coindesk, valued in the hundreds of billions of pounds.

Summary

Not only are these various litigations complex, involving multi-parties across multiple jurisdictions, they are also at the cutting edge of digital currency development, with Bitcoin gaining increasing traction towards mainstream acceptance.  There can be few litigation PR instructions of such novelty and magnitude and we remain fortunate to be advising such a creative and brilliantly innovative legal team and end client.

Bell Yard’s contact details can be found here.

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Tax Matters – PR Advice to Navigate the Storm

Tax is back as a theme and a story to groans and cheers, depending on your perspective. Mrs Sunak’s non-dom saga laid the ground. Liz Truss’ low-taxes-for-growth campaign and Kwasi’s kamikaze budget got everyone talking about it last summer. Dan Neidle, formerly of Clifford Chance and now an unencumbered independent expert, has since pushed the envelope further with his revelations about Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and, more recently, his tie-up with the i-newspaper to ask questions of former Labour party Chairman Ian Lavery.

Given the Spring Budget is only a month away and the end of the tax year looms in early April, there will be no let-up on tax-related stories in the media. And with this specialist subject taking centre stage on the political battlefield once more, with calls for a windfall tax on energy companies, a wealth tax and effectively a tax on public schools, we can expect tax to remain a hot topic for the foreseeable future.

Tax advisers have long had a PR tightrope to walk. On the one hand, it’s great to be seen as an expert in CGT, DPT, IHT, IR35 and the like. On the other hand, advisors will wish to avoid giving away the crown jewels of advice mechanics or teeter into territory that could be said to encourage tax avoidance.  The last thing any firm wants is a spotlight for the wrong reasons on its modus operandi or heaven forbid its clients, either from the media or HMRC. Mr Loophole may be able to trade on his nick-name, but not many can do the same.

There are also litigation funders increasingly willing to take on the tax expert fraternity. Just ask Andrew Thornhill KC and Jonathan Peacock KC who, separately, found themselves subject to negligence allegations from film-finance fund investors left out-of-pocket when HMRC tightened their rules. Both cases eventually settled without admission of liability but not before a fanfare of publicity and arguably dents to their hard-earned reputations.

HMRC may be attracting its own bad press at the moment for slow responses and low prosecution rates but on matters of tax denied to public coffers the media is on its side.

So what is good PR advice to anyone caught in the cross-hairs of a tax story?

If you are an individual in the public eye:

  • Try not to make tax ‘mistakes’ in the first place! Make sure you understand the steps you are taking, or advisors are taking on your behalf. If you are investigated or required to pay a penalty to HMRC don’t obfuscate. Worse – don’t bring in reputation lawyers to ‘kill’ media interest.
  • If you get into dispute with HMRC be prepared for this process to play out in public. Eamonn Holmes has talked about the stress he experienced during his case.
  • If the wind changes on what is legal or ‘within the rules’, apologise and swiftly pay back any tax owed.  This isn’t a panacea to all ills, but it’s a start. Gary Barlow found that ‘the smell’ of a tarnished reputation doesn’t easily dissipate, but the passage of time helps.
  • If what you are doing is legal but ‘a bad look’ and you’re in the public eye, think twice. Jimmy Carr spoke of his regret at investing in a perfectly legitimate offshore tax scheme (Jersey based K2) after media exposure, a public outcry and his investment decision being branded ‘morally wrong’ by David Cameron. He has actually dealt with the issue quite well in repeated media interviews since, admitting his ‘terrible error of judgment’ and promising to conduct his financial affairs ‘more responsibly in future.’  In contrast Nadhim Zahawi was criticised for apologising to his family but not the wider public for his ‘careless mistake’, which resulted in a deficit to the public purse – far from optimal for a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, however short-lived in the post.

For companies under scrutiny for their tax affairs:

  • Apologising and changing behaviour can be unrealistic in a world where corporate profits are king and the tax system is usually the issue. Yes, Amazon is known to pay minimal direct taxes on its UK based profits, for example, but it can do this legitimately within the tax rules and with clever structuring of its global business operations. Media messaging should therefore emphasize an assiduous adherence to UK tax rules and the fact allowances are available to all UK companies.
  • It also makes sense to catalogue the total £s spent on investment in the UK, number of people employed here and any UK CSR initiatives for which the company can claim credit, to mitigate critical stories.
  • Whilst companies on the backfoot may find customer loyalty isn’t seriously impacted as a result of tax exposés, this may well change with the purpose-led attitudes of Gen Z, who seem much more willing to act on their principles when it comes to consumer purchasing decisions.
  • In a general economic slow-down, an increasing number of think tanks and lobby groups (such as TaxWatch and the Fair Tax Foundation) will look to expose the tax affairs of big corporations. They feed their calculations to the media and by doing so aim to keep the pressure on the Government to review the rules and on HMRC and consumers to hold these companies to account.   

If you are a tax adviser:

  • Be aware, there are downsides as well as upsides to commenting in the media.
  • Focus expert marketing-oriented commentary around tax deadlines, winners and losers, obvious top tips and common mitigation steps.
  • Work with your clients if the media spotlight falls on them to ensure consistent messaging with your firm and that technical accuracy and emotional intelligence underpin reactive responses. 

High-profile clients dodging their tax paying responsibilities makes great media copy, and never more so in this climate of a cost-of-living crisis. There is rarely a reputational ‘win’ in such tax-matters, merely damage limitation.

By Louise Beeson

15/02/2023

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Courting Publicity – The Public’s Right to Hear 

Last week saw the release of a Justice Committee report on a subject close to our hearts – Court Reporting in the Digital Age.  The report examines the barriers to open and transparent justice and the public’s right to learn of, or personally experience, cases heard across the justice system.

Its findings will come as no surprise to those of us, whether members of the media or general public, who seek access to civil and criminal court proceedings. The process of availing oneself of the written documents in a case to allow for a comprehensive understanding of the facts is truly antediluvian and seemingly deliberately opaque – made worse by the introduction of online only hearings. Finding out if reporting restrictions apply in a case can equally prove problematic.

Parliament deserves credit for at least recognising there is still, in 2023, an access and transparency problem in our judicial system and so commissioning the study. The principle that justice should be administered in public was rightly recognised throughout the report as paramount, to be restricted only in limited circumstances: “Fair, accurate and contemporaneous media reporting of proceedings should not be prevented by any action of the court unless strictly necessary” [para 5] and recognising “the media are the ‘eyes and ears of the public’ in court proceedings” [para 21]

Witnesses

Thoughtful and constructive submissions were received from representatives of all interested parties – the judiciary (from magistrates through to the Lord Chief Justice); representatives from HMCTS; journalists; academics; trade bodies; justice charities; media standards and investigative organisations; commercial legal information providers; solicitors and barristers.  

Together, they helped the Committee form a detailed set of conclusions and recommendations – that are likely to be totally overlooked by the MoJ for lack of funding.  Was it ever thus.

However, were they enacted in a parallel universe, the proposals may not solve all ills but would certainly improve the public’s exposure to justice meted out in its name. In the process, they might improve the public standing of both the judiciary and the media itself, tasked with reporting complex or disturbing cases but these days hampered by a combination of ignorance or antipathy to the rights of the public.  

The Information Gap

Witnesses gave troubling evidence that publishers have significantly cut back on funding for reporting court cases, both locally and nationally, despite the obvious interest in their outcomes.  Few can afford to send reporters to attend court daily throughout a trial, without a guarantee that copy will be filed.   

This, of course, means the information gap can usefully be filled by litigation PR experts – our job is sometimes to alert media to, other times to educate journalists on our clients’ cases, highlighting the positive, mitigating the negative, not just through trial or post judgment, but most usefully throughout the litigation timetable. 

Sometimes, and rather less welcomingly, this information gap risks being filled in criminal cases by the police and CPS, whose press releases, we are told, are not always wholly accurate, despite an increased reliance by journalists on their content [para 28].

Solutions

So what should be done to improve transparency? The most obviously pressing recommendation is the improved use of IT in both recording and disseminating information on hearings, case files, judgments and appeals.  

  • A single digital portal is recommended which the media and public could use to access information. The US PACER (public access to court electronic records) system should be its model. It should include a centralised database of reporting restrictions on cases.
  • AI-powered transcription could be piloted to see whether this could reduce the cost of producing court transcripts. Sentencing remarks in Magistrates Courts might be routinely transcripted but all Crown Court sentencing remarks should be.
  • The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should publish a paper setting out the public’s right to witness court hearings and have access to relevant documentation in the digital age.
  • MPs and education establishments should be encouraged to visit their local courts to develop a truer understanding of how they operate.
  • With respect to the family courts, there should be a review of section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. Section 12 should be replaced with a much more targeted measure that respects the principle of open justice.
  • Care must be taken in the digital age (particularly given the rise in citizen journalism where individuals are not trained in the specialism of court reporting), to uphold the principles of fairness and quality of justice.
  • The new Reporters’ Charter is welcomed, but there should be a similar one for the public setting out social rights and responsibilities when it comes to accessing information from the court.
  • His Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service should ensure that the requisite resources are provided to enable the establishment of an anonymisation unit that facilitates the publication of at least 10% of Family Court judgments without the risk of identification of the parties involved.

So there’s much that could, and should, be done to maintain the public’s right to witness personally, or by proxy, the vital work of the courts in England and Wales. Until then, if you want your case heard and for it to have half a chance of being accurately reflected, give us a call!

By Melanie Riley

Tuesday 24th January 2023

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BrewDog PR Hypocrisy Puts Brand in the Doghouse

When the multinational brewery and pub chain BrewDog launched an attack on the Qatar World Cup, referencing the Emirate’s alleged human rights abuses in a rather humorous advert, “First Russia, then Qatar, we can’t wait for North Korea”, it articulated the mood of the public perfectly. The mention of being a sponsor of the “World F*Cup” was also a nice, everyman touch. 

However, the murky reality is that despite their protests BrewDog are still showing the football competition in their many pubs, are providing beers to Qatar for the event, and aren’t exactly in the best position to be shaming anyone on their employees’ rights records given the countless accusations of a toxic workplace culture that have hung over the company and its reputation for years.

This raises the debate of whether it is hypocritical to seek to criticise others and by implication position yourself as a ‘purposeful’ organisation when your business behaviours don’t live up to that depiction. Doing so risks alienating your stakeholders and violating the trust and the authenticity of your firm’s mission statements. In these days of citizen journalism, with social media amplification at the touch of a button, if you don’t walk the walk, you’ll soon be exposed and judged for talking the talk.

Brand association is a real banana skin. British Cycling seeking the oil giant Shell as a sponsor and accepting its largesse in an eight-year deal has caused understandable outrage and disparagement for ‘greenwashing’ amongst their eco-aware audience. This indignation was further highlighted by Greenpeace’s heavy condemnation of the partnership

“The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan.”

Law firms, just as any large brand, must ensure their actions, partnerships, and values align in any well-structured sponsorship strategy – as authenticity is key. Failure to practice what you preach risks betraying your brand message and causing unwelcome unrest amongst your stakeholders.   

It’s still unwise to throw stones in glass houses.

By Declan Flahive

Friday 11th November 2022

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Shein Doesn’t Shine Anymore

Channel 4’s recent documentary into the working practices of garment workers for ultra-fast fashion firm Shein was shocking, but hardly surprising.

The company, privately owned by Chinese marketing guru Chris Xu and loved by millions of millennials and Gen Z shoppers in the UK, said in response that it was extremely concerned by the allegations which “would violate its Code of Conduct agreed to by every Shein supplier” and promised to investigate the claims. However, it has said the same when faced with similar allegations in 2021.

Shein seems to attract regular bouts of negative publicity. It is regularly in hot water with high-end brands accusing it of copyright infringement and copycat designs – complaints from Zara and the owners of Doc Martens being examples. Only recently, its parent company agreed to pay US$1.9m to New York authorities for failure to notify all customers of the extent of a hacking and data breach incident.

Who will investigate Shein over the latest furore?  The company ships clothes to 150 countries. In the UK will we see them being investigated for breach of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015?

This law requires companies to prepare and make publicly available details of the steps taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking are not part of supply chains and the result of due diligence undertaken into business operations and suppliers. However the trouble with the MSA is the lack of teeth in the face of any contravention. Critics lament that it seems to be expected that reputational or commercial pressures suffice in doing the job of holding perpetrators to account in the absence of proper sanctions.

When he was Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab talked about the UK government’s intention to introduce fines for businesses that do not comply with their MSA transparency obligations. However precise details of whether this is in the latest Modern Slavery Bill are still awaited.

Meantime the meteoric rise and popularity of Shein amongst Gen Z shoppers suggests a passion for cheap fashion is more important to them in financially constrained times, than concerns about Shein’s link to questionable human rights and unethical working practices.

Nonetheless, potential investors in Shein’s proposed IPO will surely demand it does a better job of upholding its ESG responsibilities. There has been talk that the company intends to list in the US in 2024 and of an eye-popping $100bn valuation.

If Shein does have ambitions to become a global public company and wants long-term success, it would do well to learn a few basic lessons, namely:

  • ESG principles can’t be dismissed as a mere tick box exercise.
  • There is no point in having a self-designed Code of Conduct if it isn’t followed or policed. 
  • Communication with investors and regulators is a totally different kettle of fish to communication with consumers on Tiktok.

Regulators and law makers may not be quite there yet on scrutinising companies over their environmental credentials and ethical practices, but this is undoubtedly an area of rapid development. If Shein doesn’t walk the talk or communicate authentically, it could soon lose its sheen and swiftly find itself no longer in fashion.

November 1st 2022

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Pre-charge anonymity – the case for upholding its importance

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”  

So said the ‘Oracle of Omaha’, Warren Buffet.  It’s a sentiment that would be shared by many who find themselves, unfairly, on the wrong end of a high-profile police investigation.

So who might have done things differently – Sir Cliff Richard, or the police and the BBC – when helicopters circled the showman’s house and the BBC live streamed footage from the air as dozens of Met officers began their raid following an allegation of historic sexual abuse, when no subsequent charges were made?

It is the impact on reputation that has caused the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to propose banning the naming by media of an individual arrested and investigated, but ultimately not charged, of an offence. Braverman noted the very grave damage inflicted upon individuals in such circumstances.  Pre-charge anonymity is back on the agenda.

In response, The Times’ former Legal Editor, Frances Gibb, penned a spirited article last Sunday determining that regardless of the intrusion and reputational effect, the tenet of open justice must prevail.  She wrote that pre-charge publicity can be crucial in sex crimes and that a wall of silence around police activity would be a worrying shift towards secret justice.

Having counselled individuals experiencing the humiliation of a police raid only for no further action to be taken, I humbly beg to differ.

Many perpetrators of sexual violence, it is claimed, may not have been brought to justice had an initial arrest of a suspect not been publicised, thereby encouraging others to come forward with their experiences in the hope –  and reasonable expectation – that numbers would strengthen a prosecution and result in a conviction. But does that not lead to lazy policing, allowing for vexatious claims against unpopular figures to influence charging decisions? Just look at the Carl Beech case in which the high-profile accused were portrayed as guilty perpetrators by police and press alike, all on the say-so of a fantasist.  If the police and CPS cannot mount a case against an individual accused of one crime, is it right that others should be encouraged to come forward and add to suspicions of the defendant if the new accusers were not sufficiently motivated to bring their own claims?

I was recently gripped by the moving investigation by Winifred Robinson, formerly at BBC Radio 4, into the desperate case of young Rikki Neave, killed aged six almost 30 years ago, in a 10-part BBC podcast series called ‘The Boy in the Woods’. You only have to listen to neighbours on the estate’s views of Rikki’s mother, Ruth, to understand why the police aimed their whole investigation towards proving her guilt in the murder of her son.  But they were wrong and it took 28 years to convict the real killer. During this time, Ruth falsely gained a reputation as a child killer that even her acquittal could not repair. Protecting reputations is not just a matter for the privileged – the impact on the most vulnerable in society can be equally, if not more, pervasive.  

And the reputational impact goes way beyond just the investigated individual – it’s their spouses, children, relatives and friends who arguably suffer as much damage – wholly unnecessarily so if the investigation never proceeds to charge.   Yes, there’s recourse to privacy laws – but you have to be well-funded and the breach egregious and quantifiable to have a chance at standing up a claim against the police or media in such circumstances. Very few in society would be in a position to do so.

If we have faith in our forces to properly investigate a crime, we should have no qualms in supporting Braverman’s resurrection of pre-charge privacy plans.  The media has huge power to influence opinion and thereby affect reputations, but this power must be used fairly for it to retain public support. The media may find that gross breaches of privacy have not only a financial cost, but a reputational one too.

By Melanie Riley

18th October 2022

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The Sound of Radio Silence: Liz Truss Hits the Local Airwaves

If Liz Truss and her PR advisers thought that local radio would give her a much easier ride than national news programmes, then they were sorely mistaken. 

Breaking her silence after four days of turmoil in the financial markets prompted by Friday’s mini-Budget (which saw the IMF call on the government to reverse its tax-cutting plans, the Bank of England make an emergency intervention to prevent a run on pension funds, interest rates shoot up, mortgage deals withdrawn, and sterling collapse to record lows), Truss gave her first media interviews to eight BBC radio stations across the country yesterday morning. 

Allocated just five minutes each to grill the Prime Minister, and determined to reflect the concerns, fears and fury felt by their listeners, the presenters wasted no time in going for the jugular, contrary to the patronising suggestions by certain media commentators that local radio interviews would be a soft option. 

From Radio Leeds’ opener, “Where’ve you been?”, to a Radio Nottingham listener’s claims that tax cuts were “like a reverse Robinhood”, Radio Teesside’s questioning about dead crabs washing up on local shores, to Radio Lancashire’s focus on fracking, Truss faced a gruelling series of bruising interviews on a range of subjects dear to local radio listeners’ hearts. 

Determined to stick to her key messages and defend last Friday’s “fiscal event”, Truss would not accept any responsibility for Britain’s economic crisis, laying the blame squarely on Vladimir Putin. Sometimes she refused to accept the premise of questioning or simply avoided answering the question altogether. Hesitant and robotic in her delivery, at one stage she was lost for words for almost four seconds while attempting to justify her economic policies to Radio Stoke. It made for painful listening. 

“An utter shitshow”, “brutal”, “gaslighting” and “blind to reality” were just some of the reactions to her car crash interviews from media commentators and MPs across the political divide.

As The Guardian pointed out, the “PM’s eight short interviews produced more news than a typical slot on Radio 4’s Today programme”. 

Whatever you think about Truss and Kwarteng’s dogged devotion to trickle-down economics, the episode shows the importance of communication in averting and handling a crisis (although Truss’s team, of course, deny that it is a crisis). 

While Truss is by no means a natural communicator, there are still some fundamental principles that she, and her team, should observe: 

  • Be prepared – don’t launch a new initiative until you’re ready, then provide a thorough and timely briefing of the policy or strategy, backed up by sound evidence, and plan for tough questioning. 
  • Don’t shy away from or delay giving media interviews – a head-in-the-sand mentality simply compounds the crisis, giving the impression of arrogance, complacency or ineptitude. Or all three. But – crucially, as above – be prepared. 
  • Know your audience – be aware of and ensure you can respond to the wide range of issues that might arise, particularly when giving local media interviews. 
  • Show empathy – acknowledge, listen and respond to people’s very real concerns, rather than regurgitating scripted answers that evade the question. 
  • Don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve got it wrong, take ownership, and adjust your strategy accordingly, rather than claiming everything is going to plan despite clear evidence to the contrary. 

Truss – who lest we forget was put in power by a mere 0.17% of British voters – now finds herself alienating not just the markets and the public, including many in the crucial Red Wall constituencies, but a large number of Tory MPs too – among them some of her supporters at the recent leadership contest. 

Unsurprisingly, Labour is riding high in the polls, positioning itself as the party of economic competence. 

With the term ‘fin de siècle vibes’ reportedly being bandied about Westminster, Truss will need all the communications skills she can muster if she, and her party, have any chance of surviving this self-inflicted crisis of confidence and leadership.

By Sarah Peters

Friday 30th September 2022

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5 Tips to Grow Your Business on Social Media

In the fast-moving digital age, organisations need to engage with social media on a professional level or risk falling behind the pack. Whilst social media marketing might be an intimidating venture to some, effectively using it alongside more traditional PR techniques will bring you a range of advantages that will help your business flourish.

Here are a few tips on how to grow your business on social media:

1. Build a long-term relationship with your audience

Audiences of most traditional PR techniques tend to interact passively with content. In contrast, social media offers a two-sided relationship to its followers allowing ‘likes’, ‘shares’, and replies to a company’s online posts. This “relationship marketing” aspect is a powerful tool in making the brand more accessible. You can help to grow a committed following by nurturing this relationship with high-quality and relevant online content.

2. Be consistent with your online voice

Deviations and inconsistencies in your tone can lead to distrust brewing within your audience base. Avoid this pitfall by ensuring that your voice is clear, becoming recognisably ‘you’ which will help maintain and build a healthy online following – provided this voice is one that connects with your desired audience. It is also important to understand and adapt to the varied attributes that each social media platform offers. Twitter has a much more constrained character limit with shorter visibility, whereas LinkedIn caters to long-form written content and maintains its visibility for longer.

3. Utilise social media algorithms

Use the reward systems of social media algorithms to gain free promotion for your organisation’s online profile. Offer consistent content to your audience by following a content calendar that marks out how often and when you are going to post. As a result, the social media platform’s algorithm will recognise you as a reliable source of regular content and will promote your online presence for free. Ensuring that your content is truly valuable to your audience will likely boost its social media metrics of ‘likes’, ‘shares’, and ‘comments’. Once again, the algorithm will reward such engaging content with further organic promotion.

4. Sense an incoming crisis

Social media monitoring can be a vital tool in sensing a brewing storm before impact. As any PR professional will know, it is much easier to prevent a crisis from taking place than it is to get the toothpaste back into its tube, so to speak. Through early online detection more traditional crisis communication strategies can be deployed to reduce reputational damage. Be clear and concise if you are going to engage with a crisis online or else you risk worsening the situation, as was the case with Center Parcs and the hullabaloo surrounding their clunky reaction to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

5. Use analytics to monitor growth and shape strategy

Analysing the level and extent of online engagement in your content can help target all future content and key messaging. The vast analytics offered on social media platforms, such as impression rates, enables you to closely monitor the growth of your account and ensure that it remains on an upwards trajectory (within your preferred target audience) by recognising and doubling down on the types of content that have the best engagement rate.

Content is King

Traditional PR and social media marketing are powerful tools that can become even more profound when used in sync. Failing to utilise social media is to miss out on vast engagement with, and knowledge of, your audience. However, your social media presence should be taken as seriously as other elements of your business. Failure to ‘read the room’ or sense an impending crisis, for instance, can end in a social media pile-on, creating a disaster for even the largest and most robust of organisations.

In short, content is king – create it, target it, evaluate it and don’t be afraid to adapt it if circumstances demand it.

By Declan Flahive

29/09/2022

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What Lawyers Can Learn From the Royals on PR

The Royal PR machine is an impressive operation. They don’t always get it right, of course, and have had their own share of slings and arrows to cope with, especially in the last few years, but overall, without doubt, the family’s contract with the nation has been nurtured by and has grown to rely on PR techniques that most business leaders – including at law firms – can’t ignore. Here are our top ten tips for successful PR Royal style:-

  1. Planning – whether it’s diary scheduling or preparing for a crisis event, the Royal PR machine tries to spot clashes, scenario plan and anticipate – at a macro and micro level; 
  2. Embracing technology – from radio to TV, from zoom and insta, the family have moved with the times to get their message out to audiences via an ever-evolving list of channels;
  3. Face-to-face engagement – as we’ve seen in the last week in particular, direct and personal connection with stakeholders is key to keep it real and literally stay in touch;
  4. Remember all your stakeholders – no one has a divine right to rule (any longer). Position and power derives from various sources and relies on keeping all stakeholder on side, if not ideally their positive support;
  5. It’s about both words and actions – walking the talk, practising what you preach and living your values are all important for reputation;
  6. Be authentic – there is no need to change yourself to up your appeal – staying true to your background, style and purpose wins out in the end;
  7. Consistent yet flexible – a lot has been said about our former Queen’s consistency. People knew what to expect and that they could rely on her considerable commitment to duty, yet to be fair she and those around her were willing to be flexible and pragmatic sometimes too.  
  8. Context and public opinion counts – seeking to operate in a vacuum is folly. Being sensitive to events, your audience and reading the room are essential for organisations, leaders and managers.  
  9. Know your mission – don’t get deflected from your mission strategy and keep reminding yourself (and others) what you exist for and set out to do.
  10. Play the long game – whatever road bumps arise to throw you off course, however tempting short-term gains might seem, always strive for the longer-term prize, even if it means difficult choices.

By Louise Beeson

Tuesday 20th September 2022

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Center Parcs: Royal Muck Up

Communications during a crisis need to be clear, empathetic and sense-checked for rebound risk as any specialist PR expert will tell you. Sadly Center Parcs was one of a number of organisations who didn’t quite get these ingredients right in their clunky handling of a self-inflicted furore this week. 

The Center Parcs team caused anger and confusion when attempting to correct an earlier contentious position regarding the proposed closure of their facilities on Monday 19th September, out of respect for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. 

After an eruption of online outrage following the announcement that holidaymakers would have to vacate their lodges for the day, an inevitably swift U-turn followed. However, this wasn’t the end of the PR headache for the company which prides itself on providing relaxation and escapism for all. 

The team at the short-break holiday company took to Twitter to calm the brewing storm – only to provoke fresh backlash. Replying to one tweet of outrage, the company said: 

“We recognise leaving the village for one night is an inconvenience, we have listened and made the decision to allow guests to remain on village on Monday, however, the village will still be closed, so guests will need to remain in their lodges.” 

The prospect of guests being locked in their cabins led to further incredulity and required a follow-up tweet apologising for the miscommunication. 

Center Parc’s clumsy engagement was sadly not unique, as a similar blunder from the Met Office shows. Its Twitter account recently posted

“As a mark of respect during this time of national mourning we will only be posting daily forecasts and warnings.” 

What the national weather service meant to say was that it would not be providing additional lighthearted content during the national period of mourning, aside from its regular weather service. However, due to its lack of clarity, followers quite reasonably took the tweet to mean that the public would only be informed of the weather one day at a time. 

Whilst brands such as Center Parks were undoubtedly looking to support staff loyal to the Queen when formulating their original closure policies, it’s little wonder they faced ridicule having completely failed to balance this intention with consideration for the practical needs of their all-important customer base. The impact of corporates’ decisions on their consumers should be paramount, with plans stress-tested by the communications teams before any announcements are made. It’s simply PR 101. 

Failure to do so in these cases has turned an act of respect and reverence for the passing of the reigning monarch and head of state, into an exercise of alienation, from which it is hard to recover. We’re keeping our eyes out for smart Center Parcs advertising in due course – perhaps poking fun at itself in recognition of its right royal muck up.

By Declan Flahive

16th September 2022

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‘Sportswashing’: You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

The greatest and most popular football league in the world (arguably) turns 30 this week. In the space of a few decades, the English Premier League has blossomed into a global marketing powerhouse with all the theatrics and drama any sports spectator could dream of – from transfer deadline day to emotional local derby duels. But along with its success story, there exists a growing threat to its reputation. The Premiership is susceptible to accusations of a practice known as ‘sportswashing’ whereby club ownership is said to be used to clean up a tainted public image. 

The Premier League kick-started the celebrity era of football with the likes of David Beckham. When the dainty-voiced, floppy-fringed fella scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon for Manchester United in 1996, he lit the fuse for an explosion of his fame and the 21-year-old soon became a global superstar. His relationship with “Posh Spice” only served to augment his popularity credentials. 

This interweaving of football with mainstream culture has grown with icons such as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, whose personal lives have increasingly taken centre stage.  Around-the-clock TV coverage and the emergence of the internet and social media has increased demand for every little morsel of the private lives of these very rich and famous athletes. Noticeably, this interest is no longer confined to the players. 

Since Abramovich took over Chelsea FC in the early noughties and in a similar vein the owners of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, and Newcastle United, Saudi Arabian-led Public Investor Fund (PIF), each have been accused of using the English game to not only advance their own net worth through marketing opportunities but also to enhance their public images. 

Football’s ability to cement a relationship between owners and fans is surprisingly powerful. When Roman Abramovich’s assets were seized and he was reported to have been chased out of the country for his alleged connections to Vladimir Putin following the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine, not all of the supporters of his club Chelsea F.C. were so keen to push him out of the door – due to the success his resources had enabled. Fans continued to chant the now former owner’s name in the stands well after the war had unfolded. It’s fascinating how a game of sport can warm the hearts of those unlikely to hold similar sentiments for others on the Russian sanctions list.

Buying a football club can be seen as a chance to revolutionise not just your own public image, but even that of your country. After purchasing the blue side of Manchester, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi has enabled City to accumulate title after title. The investment from the oil-rich Sheikh is undoubtedly part of a wider plan to present the Abu Dhabi state in a positive light in the West.  In fact, since 2014, the ruling family has invested outside the club’s doors and tapped into the wider Mancunian area through the Manchester Life project. A joint partnership between the Abu Dhabi United Group and Manchester City Council, it has a £1 billion goal to transform 200 acres surrounding the Etihad Stadium from a derelict wasteland into a hub of modern real estate. 

Other resultant developments include the regeneration of an 80-acre brownfield site into the City’s state-of-the-art training facility. The club has also donated 5.5 acres of land and at least £12 million towards Beswick Leisure Centre, the sixth form Connell college and the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance. Furthermore, the club’s ‘City in the Community’ programme has invested thousands of hours of work into noble causes such as disability football teams and mental health support for the younger generation. 

Whilst cynics might question the motives of these actions, the benefits to the recipients are undeniable. The Emirati State’s human rights record is well-documented but its largesse in Manchester seemingly allows many to turn a blind eye. 

Wider public disapproval (ie from those not directly benefitting) of alleged ‘sportswashing’ seems to provide little of an actual roadblock to investment. Newcastle United is the latest high-profile English Premier League club to be bought out by an overseas investor with a controversial history. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund invested in the takeover at St. James’ Park on October 7th 2021 costing a reported £415 million. 

At the time, Amnesty International was very critical of the move with its UK’s chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh saying: “The Saudi buy-out of Newcastle exposed the glaring inadequacies of English football’s ownership rules – with no bar for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes – yet it hasn’t led to the change we urgently need to see.” 

Deshmukh continued: “When Saudi Arabia swooped in and bought Newcastle, it was one of the most glaring examples of modern sportswashing the world has ever seen. “With Mohammed bin Salman now effectively Newcastle’s owner, the Saudi state will see the club as another means to try to shape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human rights record.

“The Saudi authorities clearly see Newcastle as a long-term sportswashing project, but for now we’re seeing Eddie Howe and sections of the fanbase dodging questions about Saudi human rights abuses – neither of which is healthy for football.” 

One wonders whether those responsible for English club ownership rules will decide to introduce more strident checks and balances to prevent such future allegations of ‘sportswashing’ being levelled.  Or perhaps, to better protect ‘the beautiful game’, the introduction of majority fan-ownership such as that deployed in Germany will instead take root as the preferred future investment model. 

Conclusion:

The expansion of the Premier League in the most popular sport on the planet suggests it will only continue to attract those looking for a public relations revamp. The question is whether the sport chooses domestic social benefits over its international ESG responsibilities. 

While more stringent regulation could be implemented to prevent allegations of ‘sportswashing’, revelations of FIFA corruption show that a root-and-branch clean-up of football management is unlikely. Women’s tennis is one major international sport that has begun to put the defence of human rights before play. Unfortunately in football, just as we’re now seeing in golf, money still rules.

18th August 2022

Declan Flahive

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Tulip Trading given leave to appeal Bitcoin recovery jurisdiction judgement

Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Andrews DBE has granted permission for ONTIER LLP client, Tulip Trading Ltd, to appeal the judgment handed down by Mrs Justice Falk of 25 March 2022 denying jurisdiction over a claim for breach of fiduciary and tortious duties. Tulip Trading Ltd, a Seychelles registered company, whose primary beneficial owner is Dr Craig Wright, is seeking to bring proceedings in the English High Court against 16 bitcoin developer defendants, 13 of whom had challenged jurisdiction leading to Mrs Justice Falk’s judgment upholding their challenge.

However Lady Justice Andrews in granting the appeal recognised the importance of the issues in the claim, saying:

“The issue as to whether Developers owe duties of care and/or fiduciary duties to the owners of digital assets and if so, what is the nature and scope of those duties is one of considerable importance and is rightly characterised as a matter of some complexity and difficulty.  Given that in addition to its complexity and difficulty the underlying facts will play a significant role in determining that issue, it is arguable with a real prospect of success that it is not susceptible of summary determination in the context of a challenge to the jurisdiction, and therefore that the Judge fell into error in deciding that there was not even a serious issue to be tried and in the approach she adopted.”

Oliver Cain, Partner at ONTIER LLP comments:

“We are grateful that Lady Justice Andrews recognised the wider importance of establishing in law the responsibilities of developers of digital assets to end users. The complex and fact-heavy considerations, that characterise developers’ duties to those who have lost access to their Bitcoin, deserve to be explored and determined at full trial and not to be dismissed through a jurisdiction challenge.

“Individual owners of digital currencies will be grateful that leave to appeal has been granted as the outcome will set the precedent for others to follow, should they lose access to their private wallets.  We look forward to successfully presenting our case in full in due course.” 

ONTIER (on behalf of Tulip Trading Ltd) seeks to recover £3+ billion worth of Bitcoin 

Claim has significant implications for other users and the way Bitcoin operates

The defendants in this unprecedented action are the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH and ABC residing in various jurisdictions across the world including: Netherlands, Switzerland, Kitts and Nevis, France, Japan, numerous different states in the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

ONTIER was originally granted permission to serve all the developers out of the jurisdiction by the Business and Property Courts of the High Court in London, following a 173 page application submission detailing the claim.

Following the jurisdiction hearing, the Bitcoin Association, developers of BSV, has entered into a settlement agreement with Tulip Trading Ltd.

ENDS

In the Court of Appeal: Lady Justice Andrews DBE.

Legal Advisors:   Dr Wright was represented by Derek StinsonOliver CainFelicity Potter and Nicolas Dawson of ONTIER LLP.

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications                        +44 (0)20 7936 2021  BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                            +44 (0)7775 591244   melanie@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors:

Dr Wright is the inventor of Bitcoin who set out his vision for the digital currency in his famous White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. 

The litigation seeks to examine, for the first time, the nature and extent of legal duties conferred upon and owed by developers resulting from the control they exercise over their respective blockchains.

As detailed in the Particulars of Claim, TTL requested that the individual developers enable TTL to regain access to and control of its Bitcoin on the grounds that they, the developers, owe Bitcoin owners both tortious and fiduciary duties under English law as a result of the high level of power and control they hold over their respective blockchains.

In February 2020, Dr Wright’s personal computer was hacked by persons unknown and encrypted private keys to two addresses, which hold substantial quantities of Bitcoin belonging to TTL, were stolen. These assets were, and continue to be, owned by TTL. 

Other litigation involving Dr Craig Wright

There is a series of successful or pending legal claims issued by lawyers across jurisdictions on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities, to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:

·         Earlier this year, Dr Wright’s UK lawyers, ONTIER LLP, on behalf of Dr Wright defeated a strike-out attempt by Magnus Granath, following Dr Wright’s English defamation proceedings against Granath.  This trial will heard by the High Court in late 2023. 

·         On 12 September 2022, the District Court of Oslo will hear Granath’s application for a Negative Declaration to determine that his campaign of disparagement of Dr Wright through social media is not defamatory. This is challenged by Dr Wright, who will give evidence in person in Norway during this trial.

·         Earlier this month, influential digital currency podcaster, Peter McCormack, was found by the English High Court to have defamed Dr Wright in 14 tweets and 1 YouTube video, in which McCormack decried Dr Wright’s assertion that he invented Bitcoin.  This judicial ruling came not long after McCormack withdrew his reliance on a defence of truth to his publications.  Aspects of this judgment are under consideration by Dr Wright and his lawyers with a view to launching an appeal.

·         In 2021 Dr Wright successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”. Enforcement of this judgment is ongoing.

·         ONTIER LLP and Harcus Parker LLP are advising companies owned by Dr Wright in their passing off claims against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase, filed in the High Court earlier this month.

·         Dr Wright is also advised by ONTIER on his defence and counter-claim to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the White Paper, which also will likely be heard in 2024.

·         In December 2021 Dr Wright successfully defended a claim brought in US by Ira Kleiman, brother of Wright’s late friend Dave Kleiman, who predicated the claim on the fact that Dr Wright is Nakamoto, but that Wright created Bitcoin with the help of Dave Kleiman.  The jury rejected that allegation.

About ONTIER

ONTIER has an established and growing practice for recovering stolen and hacked Bitcoin. Its partners, Oliver CainDerek StinsonFelicity Potter and Nicholas Dawson (Associate), are advising TTL and instructed John Wardell QCBobby Friedman and Sri Carmichael of Wilberforce Chambers as Counsel on this matter.

This litigation is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities to uphold his right to protect not only his lawfully-held digital assets, but also his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property.

The firm is well known for its high-profile Bitcoin related litigation and has a highly regarded dispute resolution team. Its work is almost exclusively international and multi-jurisdictional in nature, focused on complex, high value international litigation, insolvency matters and arbitration in a wide range of financial and industry sectors. 

The firm acted in successful English High Court proceedings against Reliantco Investments Ltd, a digital asset and securities exchange, which blocked and seized a substantial amount from a client’s trading account. ONTIER LLP was able to recover the client’s full investment, its unrealised gains and loss of profit (that the client would have earned from intended investments had its funds not been unlawfully withheld).

ONTIER is recognised in the UK Legal 500 for commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud.

The firm has offices in 18 cities in 13 countries, giving a truly international capability. 

London, 12 August 2022

https://uk.ontier.net/

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NFTs: Ukraine, Beeple & The Law

Whether you own or trade in them or think they’re little more than a speculative bubble, you can’t deny that NFTs – or Non-Fungible Tokens – have entered the public consciousness in recent times.


What are NFTs?

Firstly, what even are these strange digital tokens that have been causing such a wave of interest across popular culture? 

Non-fungible tokens are essentially unique and irreplaceable digital tokens containing valuable information stored on a blockchain – essentially a database of transaction records – with the Ethereum blockchain being the most popular. Think of them as a digital asset that represents real-world objects like music, digital trading cards, in-game items, and videos – but the real craze has been for NFTs in the digital art format which has taken the art world by storm. 

Art World

The prevalence of NFTs can perhaps be attributed to the continued endorsements of high-profile names, mainstream media coverage, and social media hype which boosts a market whose products arguably have no actual intrinsic value. However, the seismic shift this new art form is causing can be clearly seen through nearly $41 billion being spent on NFTs by the end of 2021 – making the market nearly as valuable as the global art market. One of the most well-known NFT artists is Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, whose NFT “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” sold for an astounding $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021.  According to Christie’s, the sale put “Beeple” “among the top three most valuable living artists,” behind only David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Popular Culture

Celebrity endorsements for NFTs and such collections as “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” has been a significant catalyst in the explosion in popularity of NFTs. “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” is one of many exclusive NFT digital art collections, with only 10,000 Bored Apes NFTs in existence. Access to an exclusive club known as “the swamp club” is also granted to each owner of one of the rare ape-themed NFTs. Owning NFTs from an exclusive collection usually grants access to prestigious real-world events or Discord group chats with the world’s elite, thus increasing their value beyond mere aesthetic appeal.

Many influential people display their allegiance to their NFT community by changing their social media profile picture to a cartoonish picture of their colourful animated ape NFT, for example. Such celebrity endorsements range from billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, and footballer Lionel Messi to artist Damien Hurst, online personality KSI, and former One Direction singer Liam Payne, to name a few.

Companies are also jumping on the trend, with Spotify recently announcing plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service, a move that many are optimistic will help to boost artists’ earnings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit are also some of the latest social media heavyweights to announce plans to enable the trading and displaying of NFTs on their platforms. Snoop Dogg has also emerged as a prominent player in the market, selling more than $44 million worth of NFTs over the course of five days in support of his new album, sending shockwaves across the music industry in the process. For context, the album would have needed to amass 7.3 billion streams to earn him that same amount of alleged revenue. 

Concerns & The Law

NFTs have, however, prompted security concerns that need to be addressed if they are to convert the doubters. These issues include such scenarios as if the platform an NFT is built on goes out of business the NFT might not be accessible and thereby lose all value. Also worth noting is the rise in NFT fraud with one of the simplest forms of fraud coming in the form of people selling NFTs from artworks that they do not own the right to use. Litigation PR skills could be needed to convince a sometimes sceptical mainstream media that the theft of NFTs by unanimous individuals acting online is as damaging as the misappropriation of real-world assets. To ensure such online characters are held accountable for their actions there will also need to be an adaption of the law for a new third category of legal “things” to exist – a tertium quid – to sit alongside those of ‘chose in possession’ and ‘chose in action’.

The NFT market has also been unsteady in recent times with a significant slowdown in the market seen through the number of accounts buying and selling NFTs falling from 380,000 at its peak in November 2021 to 194,000 currently, along with a startling drop of 48 percent in the average selling price in the same period, according to NonFungible – the world’s largest NFT data resource. This also correlates with the cryptocurrency market which widely peaked in November 2021, such as the Ether cryptocurrency which uses the Ethereum blockchain upon which many NFTs are positioned, issuing a stark reminder of the digital assets market volatility.

Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has seen a significant flow of cryptocurrency and NFT donations coming into the country to help fund its war efforts against the invading Russian forces. The Ukrainian government is even releasing an NFT collection to add to this unconventional fundraising vessel, with each token carrying a piece of art representing a story from a trusted news source documenting the war. This opening of the door for media-related NFTs could mean that in the future we may well see a collection of NFTs released by broadcasters on our own shores. NFT collections of archive footage from the two World Wars and later conflicts to fundraise for Remembrance Sunday, or famous newspaper front pages from the past could be just a few of the copious digital products on the horizon. If it makes money it makes sense. Rather than just reporting on the subject from the outside looking in, the media world would be interwoven with it. You would reasonably assume that this would cause a greater sense of seriousness and urgency to develop around the reporting of the subject, particularly around allegations of fraud.

Final Note

Do NFTs represent the future of the internet as it edges towards its new phase of the “Web3” and the metaverse which will transform a myriad of industries, or are they just a huge digital pyramid scheme that is yet to implode? Whatever the outcome, there is something to note from a PR standpoint and that is the power of the endorsement and hype in bolstering the emergence of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in the past couple of years. 

This familiarisation and repackaging of NFTs to make them appear “cool” to own – and smart to invest in – by some of the most influential people on the planet have fanned the flames of society’s interest and allowed the NFT train to continue down its uncertain tracks. 

Is this the start of a new era? We’ll have to wait and see.  

By Declan Flahive

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The Power of An Apologetic Truth

Few among us could genuinely deny having made errors of judgment, whether inadvertently or otherwise. To err is human, as we are told. But so often these days otherwise forgivable missteps by public individuals captured in the omnipresent lens of social media are made infinitely worse by their first reaction to exposure of the initial wrongdoing. Molehills become mountains, challenges crises from which it can be truly hard to recover, if not already fatal to both career and reputation.

It strikes Bell Yard Towers that 2022 has begun with a flurry of high profile misconduct that might so easily have been prevented had the protagonist made better decisions in the wake of their original misdemeanour. The Prime Minister is obviously a case in point. Why obfuscate when asked the seemingly simplest of questions – “did you attend a party during lockdown?” It was surely inevitable that photographic evidence would emerge, let alone credible testimony by others, given the numbers of people also in attendance on each occasion and the politics involved. A swift admission, recognition of wrongdoing, reflection and public apology would have allowed many voters to put the issue to bed. Sadly, decisions taken once the first party was exposed have led us all down a rather bumpy garden path.

Sporting supremo, Novak Djokovic would have known that tennis aficionados, let alone casual observers, were well aware of his stated aversion to inoculations, his desire to determine what he puts into his body let alone his refusal to confirm publicly his unvaccinated status.  So when the Australian Open announced its all-player vaccination requirement all eyes were on Novak to see if he’d be withdrawing or whether a controversial route would be found for him to compete. As it was, the late confirmation of his medical exemption came as little surprise. Equally predictable was the swift public scepticism as to its validity. But the real astonishment was his tone-deaf social media posts proudly confirming his voyage to the southern hemisphere – waving his immunity in the face of a pandemic-hardened local population. This red rag to the bull that is Prime Minister Morrison, someone fiercely in election-campaigning mode, was unlikely to end well. But even then there remained the opportunity to recover his pride and reputation by returning to Monte Carlo acknowledging the errors made.  Sadly, he double faulted.

Prince Andrew’s decision to front public disquiet with a sit-down interview with one of the country’s most high-profile and able journalists was, perhaps predictably, a disastrous move, not least because of the implausible ‘evidence’ he gave which he believed would enable him to disprove the serious allegations he faces. Were you the complainant, you might well consider this decision to ‘tell-all’ a deeply provocative act that might fuel the determination to have your day in court rather than consent to a quick and quiet pay-off. The failure to show empathy for the victims or offer any apology for his relationship with Epstein compounded the situation. Sadly it has been left to the Royal Family to act decisively.

The common theme throughout these errors of judgment is a lack of awareness of the right thing to do from the outset: tell the truth, acknowledge the perception of past acts and say sorry. In other words, own the difficulty. In some of these cases, the sting may not have been fully eased by these three seemingly obvious steps, but they may have gone a good way towards pacifying an increasingly disillusioned audience. Of note in at least two, if not all three of these cases, public opinion swayed wildly as bit-by-bit more facts have emerged. But reputations are rarely enhanced by the drip feed of titbits that give oxygen to the controversy yet raise more questions than answers. 

In our line of work we surprisingly still see circumstances in which an early apology and recognition of the hurt or difficulty caused could have prevented the descent into contested and costly litigation. The power of an apology to take the wind out of the sails of even the most ardent opponent remains widely underappreciated. An apology is not necessarily an admission of liability, rather an expression of empathy that, provided sincerely expressed, can be a route to forgiveness and mutual understanding.  

People in the public eye could certainly benefit by taking counsel from diverse and objective advisers prepared to speak truth to power, telling it as it is. 

By Melanie Riley, 17th January 2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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